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TSS Seminar: Carl Elks: "Cyber and Dependability Assessment Challenges for the Nuclear Power Plant Digital Instrumentation and Control Systems"

Event Type
Information Trust Institute
2405 Siebel Center
Apr 30, 2012   11:00 am  
Carl Elks, University of Virginia


Given the need for nuclear power as part of the overall US energy strategy, significant technological and production challenges must be addressed to enable construction of new plants and extensive refurbishment of existing plants. These challenges are largely being driven by the need to extend the life of current operating nuclear power plants by 20 to 30 years and up to 60 years to meet projected energy demands as new ones come on line.

Among the thousands of systems and subsystems that comprise a nuclear power plant, the system class relied upon most for protection, control, monitoring, and supervision is Instrumentation and Control (I&C) systems. A typical reactor unit has approximately 10,000 sensors/detectors, hundreds of analog or digital processing components, and ~2,000 miles of instrumentation cables. Next to buildings and structures, I&C represents the most extensive infrastructure in any plant. As of 2010, approximately 40 percent of the world's 439 nuclear power plants have made some level of digital I&C upgrade to important safety systems. Ninety percent of all the digital I&C installations performed were modernizations of existing reactors, while 10 percent were at new reactors. As these digital I&C system upgrades transition from analog to full digital systems, safety and security issues naturally arise.

Modern Main Control Room technology (e.g., all digital) has extended the capability of integrating information from numerous plant systems and transmitting needed information to operations personnel in a timely manner that could not be envisioned when previous-generation plants were designed and built. At present, numerous versions and different types of the new advanced control rooms are in the regulatory licensing application process. To assist with understanding the requirements and implications of these new technologies on display and control designs, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), along with the nuclear industry, has been proactive in conducting research to provide informed guidance on safety and cyber security issues related to safe NPP operations, potential mitigation for failures of subsets of the automation, and how to take advantage of the digital technology while adhering to rigorous safety requirements. This talk provides a background on the planned modernization of NPP's, the emergence of the "all digital" modern control room, the perceived safety and security issues that may arise from digital I&C systems, and ongoing work to address these challenges.



Dr. Carl Elks is currently with the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. Dr. Elks received his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Prior to joining the University of Virginia, Dr. Elks worked for NASA Langley Research Center for 10 years conducting research on advanced fault-tolerant fly by wire control systems, and automated flight deck systems. His research interests are in the analysis and design of application critical embedded systems and their infrastructures, which are typically found in such areas as nuclear power generation, flight control systems, advanced main control rooms, wireless control, and SCADA systems. He is the co-founder of the Center for Safe and Secure Nuclear Energy in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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