Evaluation of a Basic Principle SMR Simulator for Experimental Human Performance Research Studies
Authors: Claire Blackett
Abstract: Simulator studies are important to understanding and collecting data on human performance, especially for first-of-a-kind technologies such as Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and/or in cases where the role of the human operator is expected to change, such as in multi-unit operations. But not all simulators are the same, and the level of complexity and fidelity of the simulator can significantly affect the possibilities for data collection. As a researcher, how can you evaluate whether the simulator you are using is suitable for the studies that you wish to run? In 2020, the researchers of the Halden Reactor Project (HRP) activity on operation of multiple small modular reactors had a unique opportunity to explore this question. A multi-unit basic principle integral pressurised water reactor (iPWR) simulator was installed in the FutureLab facility in Halden, Norway in early 2019, and a first, small study was conducted in late 2019 to test the simulator environment and study design. The simulator was provided to the HRP free of charge by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is important to note that the simulator was not designed for performance of research studies, but rather as an education tool to demonstrate the basic principles and concepts of SMR operation, and as such is limited in scope by design. The goal for the small study in 2019 was to determine whether the basic principle simulator could enable investigation of predefined topics relevant to SMR operations research, such as monitoring strategies, prioritization of taskwork and staffing requirements in multi-unit environments. The study involved two experienced former control room operators, who were tested individually in a series of scenarios of increasing complexity in a multi-unit control room setup, observed by experienced experimental researchers. Further studies with licensed control room operators were planned for 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic these plans had to be postponed. Instead, the research team took the opportunity to reflect on the experience of the 2019 small study, to perform a more detailed analysis of the study results and to substantiate the feasibility of the test environment for future experimental data collection. The detailed analysis was performed in a workshop format with the research project team using a set of questions related to specific aspects of the iPWR 3-unit control room setup. The team used a “traffic light” rating system to evaluate each question, where red indicated that that the test environment item under discussion is not currently feasible and would require redesign and extensive changes in order to use it; yellow indicated that the item is not currently feasible and would require moderate changes, and green indicated that the item is currently feasible, and some minor changes could be required. This paper describes the evaluation process in more detail, including the criteria for assessing the usefulness of the basic principle simulator for conducting experimental human performance studies in the future, and the results of the evaluation. While the list of criteria identified during this workshop is not considered exhaustive, these results are still expected to be useful to other researchers considering experimental control room studies to determine the level of complexity and fidelity that can be reasonably achieved in a control room simulator.
Keywords: Small Modular Reactors, Control Room Simulator, Human Performance, Human Factors
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