Designers of nuclear power plants in China have reportedly been using virtual reality technologies and numerical software to build virtual plants and simulate all scenarios and events throughout the lifespan of a reactor.

These include extreme incidents like a total meltdown and the technology helps decision-makers assess the safety of new designs as well as to convince skeptical residents near a proposed site about their safety.

Developed by the Institute of Nuclear Energy Safety Technology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the system utilizes emerging VR technologies to establish an integrated simulation platform, named Virtual4DS, for a more comprehensive safety assessment.

Xinhua reported that the platform, with the input of different parameters, could simulate and analyze radiation levels and long-term environmental impacts.

Virtual4DS can also be connected to a new nuclear power plant’s control system for a mock operation, staff training as well as a simulation of an emergency to test the effectiveness of contingency plans.

The system has also assisted other pioneering nuclear engineering projects such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, the world’s largest nuclear fusion experimental reactor located in France, as well as China’s Lead-based Reactor, according to Xinhua.

A paper about the research and platform has been published as a cover feature in the April issue of the International Journal of Energy Research.

Wu Yican, a lead project researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua that an important application of the new system would be to perform nuclear reactor design and safety assessment, through massive data mining and artificial intelligence analysis of huge chunks of data from the reactor being simulated as well as related data about climate, geology and tectonic movement at a proposed site.

The composition of a conventional nuclear reactor. Photos: The Nuclear Institute

Earlier this year, developers with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Tokyo Electric Power Co launched a VR kit which could take people inside the radioactive Fukushima reactor, one of only a few that melted down after being hit by a massive tsunami following the devastating earthquake that rattled northeastern Japan in March 2011.

Thanks to robot surveys and loads of data, a VR facility has been able to piece together an accurate simulation of the Fukushima reactors, not for fun, but for academics and engineers to get a sense of what kinds of special robots can make it through the extremely radioactive rubbles inside these reactors.

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada also runs a virtual nuclear reactor simulator, offering courses for the training of offsite emergency response personnel and basic awareness of onsite control room operations during nuclear power plant emergency conditions.

Trainees can act in the roles of control room personnel under different reactor operating scenarios, creating a unique experience for them to interact with the simulator in real-time.

The university says that the ability to “pause” the simulator during exercises allows instructors to evaluate and critique the performance of participants, and to provide context with respect to potential offsite emergency actions.

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