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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reactor control system upgrade for the McClellan Nuclear Radiation Center

  • Author(s): Power, Michael A.
  • et al.

Argonne National Laboratory is currently developing a new reactor control system for the McClellan Nuclear Radiation Facility. This new control system not only provides the same functionality as the existing control system in terms of graphic displays of reactor process variables, data archival capability, and manual, automatic, pulse and square-wave modes of operation, but adds to the functionality of the previous control system by incorporating signal processing algorithms for the validation of sensors and automatic calibration and verification of control rod worth curves. With the inclusion of these automated features, the intent of this control system is not to replace the operator but to make the process of controlling the reactor easier and safer for the operator. For instance, an automatic control rod calibration method reduces the amount of time to calibrate control rods from days to minutes, increasing overall reactor utilization. The control rod calibration curve, determined using the automatic calibration system, can be validated anytime after the calibration, as long as the reactor power is between 50W and 500W. This is done by banking all of the rods simultaneously and comparing the tabulated rod worth curves with a reactivity computer estimate. As long as the deviation between the tabulated values and the reactivity estimate is within a prescribed error band, then the system is in calibration. In order to minimize the amount of information displayed, only the essential flux-related data are displayed in graphical format on the control screen. Information from the sensor validation methods is communicated to the operators via messages, which appear in a message window. The messages inform the operators that the actual process variables do not correlate within the allowed uncertainty in the reactor system. These warnings, however, cannot cause the reactor to shutdown automatically. The reactor operator has the ultimate responsibility of using this information to either keep the reactor operating or to shut the reactor down. In addition to new developments in the signal processing realm, the new control system will be migrating from a PC-based computer platform to a Sun Solaris-based computer platform. The proven history of stability and performance of the Sun Solaris operating system are the main advantages to this change. The I/O system will also be migrating from a PC-based data collection system, which communicates plant data to the control computer using RS-232 connections, to an Ethernet-based I/O system. The Ethernet Data Acquisition System (EDAS) modules from Intelligent Instrumentation, Inc. provide an excellent solution for embedded control of a system using the more universally-accepted data transmission standard of TCP/IP. The modules contain a PROM, which operates all of the functionality of the I/O module, including the TCP/IP network access. Thus the module does not have an internal, sophisticated operating system to provide functionality but rather a small set hard-coded of instructions, which almost eliminates the possibility of the module failing due to software problems. An internal EEPROM can be modified over the Internet to change module configurations. Once configured, the module is contacted just like any other Internet host using TCP/IP socket calls. The main advantage to this architecture is its flexibility, expandability, and high throughput

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