Utility Week

UTILITY Week 2nd May 2014

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24 | 2nd - 8th May 2014 | UtILIty WEEK Operations & Assets from the English Channel. Workers are just putting the finishing touches to the wall, and putting up the obligatory health and safety signs as we wander past. As we walk by the site offices, we round a corner to be greeted with what could be easily mistaken for a builder's yard – flatbed lorries and scaffolding with people hurrying about, getting on with their jobs. Now I really start to see what the mainte- nance and improvement comprises. Regular checks are being carried out on fuses, pipes and wires on site, but much more substantial work is also being under- taken at Dungeness, the extent of which is revealed as I enter the turbine hall. Where a huge pump and pipework should be, there is… nothing. Elsewhere, one of the turbine houses is shrouded by scaffold- ing and covered up. I'm told by my guide for the day, Jon Jaros – who has more than three decades' worth of experience at Dunge- ness – that the turbines have been dispersed across the Midlands for specialist refurbish- ment. Jaros, tells me the turbine hall is usu- ally thrumming with the sound of spinning turbines – whereas today it is quiet. Quiet is a relative term, of course, and there is still plenty of sound as engineers scurry about, rushing to dismantle and reas- semble the guts of the plant on day 21 of the scheduled 72-day maintenance period. Entering the turbine hall is like stepping back in time. There is heavy engineering that Isambard Kingdom Brunel would find familiar – heavy steel riveted in place, pressure valves, ana- logue dials – combined with more recently fitted digital readouts and shiny pipework. I also see a few phones dotted about the plant under their 1970s covers, and complete with British Energy logos – another nod to the plant's past. But while elements of Dungeness B have been in situ since 1963, most of what is inside has been undergoing a constant evo- lution, and it needs to keep pace with the changing health and standards and opera- tional guidelines. An example of this is the monitoring equipment. Previously, if there was a fault, experienced engineers would have to manu- ally hunt for the problem. Now, in the switch room, there is a cabi- net featuring a huge screen with a readout of all the parameters for the turbine – pres- sures, temperatures, etc – so now the engi- neers can pinpoint the problem immediately. Station director Martin Pearson tells me: "It's an old station in that it's been operating for 30 years, but it will have the most modern computer brain in the fleet." Just before we make our way back through the plant, we visit the reactor hall. It brings back memories from my visit as a schoolchild as I peer down from the view- ing gallery to the huge floor hiding away the fuel and control rods. The only glimpse to what is below the floor can be had through the hatches – one of which is open with an engineer peering down into it. Not much has changed here – but then not much can. The reactors are one of the two elements that ultimately will limit how long Dungeness B will be able to generate. The others are the boilers. The graphite sleeves within them cannot be replaced, so when they've worn down, the station will have to close. However, the work being carried out now includes checks on the graphite levels and the analysis of this will feed directly into the EDF Energy's and the Office for Nuclear Responsibility's decision on how long Dungeness will continue to operate. But Pearson is keen to stress that the flood defence work, refurbishment to the turbines, and general maintenance work will not stop if and when the plant is granted that extra decade. "If we do get lifetime extension in Decem- ber, all we do is cross a line, because then we have to deliver a large portfolio of work to make sure the station remains at a modern standard," he says. "There are lots of modifications to do over the next ten-year period. "So the hard work starts now." To have an asset featured in this slot, email: paul.newton@fav-house.com

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