This article first appeared in the NDR August 2012 issue, pg 29, by authors Neno Duplan and Jennifer Peterson.
For utilities operating nuclear power plants, deploying a centralized environmental management system in the Cloud and housing all of their data in it is offering unprecedented opportunities for better monitoring, real-time analysis, and aggregating and reporting of data. Aggregating data in the Cloud allows all interested parties to know where samples of various media have been taken, which parties collected them, how the samples were analyzed, what the levels of radionuclides are in these samples, how those data are trending, and what the legal limits and long-term effects of each isotope are.
Software systems already accomplish this enormous task at some United States nuclear utilities fleets and US Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons sites, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Stanford Linear Accelerator. These systems have served US organizations well by organizing millions of analytical, effluent, radiological, and other records in a single web-based database and eliminating many legacy systems built on various incompatible software platforms over the last several decades. As a result, these facilities are now benefitting from a more efficient information management system, social networking-type of program management and collaboration which allows for an easy way to share data and information with project participants, thus streamlining reporting and operations, and offering more transparency that is welcomed by watchdog groups.
The Radioactive Effluent Technical Specifications (RETS) and Radiological Environmental Monitoring Programs (REMP) established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) protect the environmental surroundings by keeping offsite doses of radiation as low as possible. Every year, commercial nuclear plants are required to submit two annual reports to the NRC that contain a summary of all the data collected and analysis of the results. Although these reporting requirements are annual, the facilities are proactively sampling, collecting and analyzing data at a much higher frequency to ensure they are meeting the regulatory guidelines and maintaining environmental stewardship.
Nearly all of the activities associated with RETS/REMP data at nuclear power plants, nuclear research labs, and nuclear materials production and storage complexes involve the collection and analysis of complex data sets. These facilities, at a minimum, are responsible for:
- Monitoring, sampling and analysis, and control of radioactive effluents released from nuclear power plants;
- Assessment of off-site radiation dose consequences from effluent releases and plant operation;
- Monitoring, sampling and analysis of radioactive constituents in environmental media and exposure pathways around the plant;
- Radiological assessment associated with plant decommissioning and site release; and
- Radiological monitoring aspects associated with new plant construction.
Cloud Solution—Software as a Service (SaaS)
Establishing a good database management system cannot be the only thing implemented to effectively manage your RETS/REMP program; you need established data management protocols and assigned leaders to guide the process. You also need a software solution on top of which your program will run.
In order for these facilities to effectively and efficiently manage, evaluate, maintain high data quality standards and report their data, they need solid data management practices in place and a solid web-based environmental management system. By managing data through the web in a single database, all stakeholders are more equipped to access the same data consistently and obtain quicker results to address critical questions. Other benefits include automated data processing checks to find inconsistencies, and automatic email notifications of potential detections and/or exceedances. Data in one centralized location allows for prompt data queries to be run – anywhere/anytime – and full ownerships and knowledge of your facility’s data.
In the Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model, the software vendor provides access to its software and functions remotely as a Web-based service. Instead of the utility buying software and paying for periodic upgrades, its use of a SaaS application is subscription-based and all (rolling) upgrades are provided during the term of the subscription.
This on-demand service provides measurable economies of scale and cost advantages because the more customers a SaaS vendor has, the less each customer pays for a subscription. This process continuously drives down costs while improving software quality as a SaaS application benefits from the “wisdom of the crowd,” i.e., its many users. When a large network effect is present, as is the case with SaaS-based software, the value of a product or service increases as more people use it. This “network effect,” originally used to describe the rapid spread of telephones, states that the value of a communications network to its users rises exponentially with the number of people connected to it.
SaaS applications are maintained in the service provider’s datacenter, and every time users launch their browsers and log on, they get the latest version of the software as well as access to the most current data, which are also stored in the service provider’s datacenter. Because the software is hosted remotely, users don’t need to invest in additional hardware. SaaS removes the need for organizations to handle installation, set-up and often daily upkeep and maintenance.
In environmental information management, SaaS puts utilities back in charge of their own data while at the same time offering individuals with the appropriate logon privileges unfettered access not only to relevant data, but also to tools needed to analyze these data. Probably the most important of all is that the SaaS or Cloud computing model can be launched almost instantly or, at worst, within days, eliminating the need for long, self-defeating software procurement processes.
EIM, Locus Technologies’ Environmental Information Management software, provides an off-the-shelf solution to organize, manage, and report RETS/REMP and other data. EIM completely replaces existing stand-alone data systems and reporting tools to provide a comprehensive integrated solution to management and reporting of RETS and REMP data. EIM also provides a single web-based database to manage all technical data at the nuclear power plant site, from contaminated water, groundwater and soil, to air emissions and climatological data. EIM is deployed through a SaaS model, which eliminates most of the difficulties associated with the adoption of a new technology, while offering the opportunity for more rapid customization to meet the ever-changing needs of its user population.
The system provides an unmatched level of data security and enforces an extensive set of QA/QC requirements on all uploaded data. At the same time, it provides a variety of easy-to-use options to upload, validate, flag, examine, map, plot, download and report data. The system helps reporting entities to enforce data quality in accordance with the NRC and other standards such as NQA-1 and ANSI/ISO/ASQ Q 9001:2000, and to validate incoming analytical and radionuclide data.
EIM Cloud solution provides for:
- Complete RETS/REMP and analytical data management, including validation, EDD error checking, multiple EDD format uploads, and customizable valid values;
- Google-like abilities to search complex multimedia data sets on the web-based maps;
- Laboratory and instrument interface to streamline data uploads;
- Many data analysis reporting tools for trending and statistics; and
- Automated field data upload via the Locus eWellT iPhone application.
The system also provides an Integrated GIS and Subsurface Data Management Module that improves management, sharing and storing of geologic and geotechnical data and creation of clickable boring logs, well diagrams and cross sections. Rich output and data visualization tools are also part of the system. Multiple export options from point-and-click formats, including Excel, HTML, XML, ArcView and AutoCAD are available.
Completely web-based, the GIS module allows users to view and print data on a maps graphical interface. Fully customizable, report-ready charting is fully supported.
A cloud-based system provides for added security in case of disaster.
Both Fukushima and the BP Gulf spill disaster have shown that no critical software should run at the facility itself; that software and data could be destroyed along with the facility, and the data that would have helped determine the cause of the disaster would be lost for all practical purposes. For similar reasons, the aviation industry is considering a Cloud-based alternative for the so-called “black boxes” that provide flight data for downed aircraft.
Don’t gamble with your environmental data. By using a cloud-based solution for RETS/REMP and other data it can demonstrate the utility’s commitment to safety and transparency.
About the Authors:
Neno Duplan is the founder, president and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Locus Technologies. The company organizes environmental, energy and radionuclides information for US nuclear utilities, DOE nuclear weapons sites and other industries in the Cloud. Locus has pioneered the application of an online, on-demand model for data management in the environmental industry.
Jennifer Peterson is a project manager at Locus Technologies, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science. She has 15 years of experience in environmental database management, including system and process development, and cradle to grave data management processes including data collection, validation and management of analytical and field monitoring data. Peterson is the EIM implementation manager for Locus nuclear facility customers. She is skilled in Six Sigma evaluations and is supporting a key customer’s globalization effort to streamline overall environmental data and software management as part of a multinational team. She also has expertise in planning, designing, developing, implementing, enhancing and maintaining relational database systems and visualization systems for site characterization and remediation (SCR) projects, and provides advisory support for several industrial and federal clients.
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