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The Role of Software in the Nuclear Space

2023-04-20 10:04:08


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Blog Post By

Nuclear Regulatory Authority.


In 2016, at the Nuclear Information Technology Strategic Leadership (NITSL) conference, Rolls Royce officially launched its state-of-the-art nuclear plant monitoring system, SDS. Initially developed for the web, the website was an instant hit! Patronage was so high, so much so that users started asking for a mobile version. Fast forward to the present, Rolls Royce has consequently collaborated with BairesDev to release the mSDS, a more feature-rich mobile responsive web application. This minimum viable product provided invaluable feedback which is currently being used for the development of a native version (android and/or iOS mobile app) with React-Native. This is but one example of how software, in recent times, has become indispensable in the Nuclear Industry.

Indeed, the IAEA as far back as 1991, realizing the prospects of software in the operation of Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs), initiated a series of activities aimed at ensuring that Member States with software-based systems in NPPs are safe and licensed. The official technical report was released in 1994 and is currently freely available for download online. Documents like this have become necessary, seeing as proponents of nuclear technology have propelled the world as we know it, into the golden era of nuclear energy construction. There are currently over 50 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide. In some advanced countries, for instance, France, Nuclear Energy accounts for over 70% of their national electricity generation sources.

One of the main issues facing the operation of nuclear reactors in already established industries in the world, for example, the United States of America, is the ageing infrastructure. Following the frenzy of nuclear power plant construction before the Three Mile Island accident of 1979, a temporary moratorium on new constructions in the Western Hemisphere was emplaced. This helped standardize federal requirements for safety control and emergency preparedness. Still, a lot of the reactors in the US were built in the 1960s, making it very difficult to find technicians to work on the underlying outdated technologies. Finding the right components to replace defunct components is also usually a hurdle. The functions of a lot of these components could be replaced by software.

Today, Nuclear Power Companies are partnering with software development companies to build software solutions to mitigate the shortcomings in safety and efficiency in the areas of:

i.                 Nuclear Modeling and Design Analysis

ii.               Emergency Preparedness and Response

iii.             Data Analytics & Predictive Maintenance

iv.             Nuclear Cybersecurity

The Argonne National Laboratory makes use of its high-performance supercomputers to develop algorithms that have the capability to predict very accurately how a reactor will operate. Other corporations like Swedish-based GSE Systems have severe accident simulator platforms which help companies with NPPs evaluate their emergency response plans. General Electric is also considered a trailblazer in Predictive Maintenance with the advent of its Predix machine learning software. It uses data sets from past nuclear reactor operations to “help connect systems, devices, databases, external, and internal information to provide insight in a simplistic and insightful manner”.

Fun fact: on average, hackers attempt to break into computers every 39 seconds. A single breach could have dire consequences, especially for systems that control nuclear reactors. This makes Nuclear Cybersecurity another area that cannot be overlooked. USA Nuclear offers commanding perspectives in nuclear cybersecurity and defence while developing advanced threat and risk mitigation strategies for our world's most critical infrastructure.


Software engineering is now a central element across all industries and businesses. Software is proven to save time, cut costs, improve efficiency and reduce the propensity of the occurrence of accidents. Advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning offer innovations which make it possible to analyze historical data from plants and general machinery to identify patterns in operation. Furthermore, Instrumentation and Control (I&C) systems built on analogue technology are increasingly being phased out for more reliable digital computer technology-based I&Cs throughout industries.

Nuclear Power is widely considered a much safer option in comparison to other popular non-renewable and renewable forms of energy generation. All over the world, countries, including Ghana are exploring Nuclear Power to supplement their energy needs. The fear of accidents has been the bone of contention for most sceptics as far as the adoption of nuclear power is concerned. However, it is worth noting that aside from the Fukushima nuclear incident of 2011, most nuclear accidents occurred over 40 years ago. The current safe operation could largely be attributed to the incorporation of software technology and innovations in nuclear engineering, hitherto unavailable. Technocrats have been able to leverage lessons learned in past accidents to automate a lot of systems. Rest assured, nuclear plant operators, continue to collaborate with software engineers and engineering firms to develop state-of-the-art systems to ensure safety. 

Author: Cephas Kofi Bosomtwi, Instrumentation and ICT

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“Nice article !!”

-William 2022-10-24 04:03:06