Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Probabilistic Safety Analysis and Management Conference, PSAM-10

The 10th International Probabilistic Safety Analysis and Management Conference (PSAM10), organized by the International Association for Probabilistic Safety Assessment and Management (IAPSAM), begins in Seattle next month (June 7-11, 2010). The conference will deal with probabilistic safety analysis and risk assessment in a number of industrial settings, including aviation, maritime and space, as well as civil engineering applications such as water treatment facilities - but will have a particular focus on the nuclear industry. The conference is sponsored in part by Scandpower Risk Management, a major nuclear risk consultancy and division of the Lloyd's Register group.

The Plenary Speaker in the nuclear track will be Dr. George Apostolakis, the MIT Professor and nuclear PSA expert who joined the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a Commissioner last month. Dr. Apostolakis has done pioneering work on licensing issues and probabilistic safety analysis of gas cooled and fast reactors that is of particular relevance to the US Next Generation Nuclear Plant project. His group has also contributed a paper at PSAM10 on how the computational burden in estimating failure probabilities in a passive thermal-hydraulic system may be reduced using artificial neural networks (ANNs) and Quadratic Response Surface Models (that I find to be of particular interest, given my own past background in using similar techniques).

The Apostolakis group also has another contributed paper on a new class of importance measures for PSAs which they call the limit exceedance factor (LEF)- defined as the factor by which the failure probability of a given component in a nuclear plant must be multiplied so that it results in an end-state probability (such as the core damage frequency CDF) exceeding a specified limit, for example, 1E-6. This is shown to be particularly relevant in the technology neutral framework (TNF) for assessing reactors that the NRC has developed - where, rather than specific design basis events (DBEs) being considered, a set of licensing basis events (LBEs) is considered instead, whose frequency and dose must satisfy certain limits. This paper is particularly of interest, since it applies the methodology to sodium-cooled reactors, which are of interest both in the SMR and Gen-IV contexts.

There are several other contributed papers from the US NRC, of which a paper on the Standardized Plant Assessment Risk (SPAR) model, developed for the NRC by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) detailing its application to the AP1000 Reactor, and planned extensions to the ABWR, ESBWR, US-EPR and US-ABWR reactor designs is of particular interest to me, and there are also papers from INL on other aspects of SPAR development.

Dr. Philippe Hessel of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will present a paper on the methodology used by the CNSC staff to carry out safety assessments of reactor licensing submissions which contain both probabilistic and deterministic arguments.

A paper on preliminary design-phase Probabilistic Risk Assessment of The NuScale Reactor, a modular, scalable 45 MWe Light Water Reactor (SMR) - is also of great interest, given the current excitement in small and modular reactors. Of the many other interesting papers, there are also papers on risk analysis of a Mars base and another on risk analysis for a crewed Mars mission - from a group based at NASA Moffett Field.

In the session on Ageing Management of Nuclear Power Plants - a paper on a new class of PRA risk measures that are able to (i) overcome the limitation imposed by the current inability to use dynamic failure rate data on component failure rates, and (ii) the limitation arising from not including passive components in the PRA - by a group from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory - seemed very interesting, because these risk measures are claimed to enable better plant ageing management, and also help prioritize directions in materials degradation research.

In addition to all these, the conference will also cover a multitude of risk analysis areas such as those in seismic or hurricane hazards, fire hazard, the hazard from lightning events (especially critical for electrical power distribution grids); as well as other energy sectors such as risk assessment for geological sequestration (both of spent nuclear fuel and carbon dioxide) as well as for the use of hydrogen as a fuel in transportation applications, and miscellaneous nuclear and non-nuclear applications in medicine.

What is remarkable about the meeting is that it brings together practitioners of Probabilistic Safety Analysis and Risk Management from a variety of disciplines, while retaining a strong emphasis on nuclear-related PSA applications, with the potential for the different application domains of PSA to cross-fertilize, as well as being an opportunity for the practitioners from each discipline to learn from each other.