Partnering to Develop Secure Sensor Networks for Nuclear Safety

by Jennifer McAlpine / April 25, 2021

What if data could help nuclear power plants operate more efficiently and safely? Networks of connected devices have the most impact in situations where consistent data that is otherwise difficult to collect can improve people's lives. And that is exactly what Benchmark did with KnowledgeRelay to create operational cost savings, safety, and peace of mind for Idaho National Laboratory, the leading center for nuclear energy research and development in the U.S.

KnowledgeRelay is an industry leader in data integration software, particularly for the nuclear industry. But many nuclear facilities in the U.S. operate equipment that pre-dates connected, self-monitoring machines. No single sensor type could easily collect the data needed to monitor these types of facilities. Any potential sensor network couldn't involve running new cables around nuclear facilities but, it would be required to be secure and avoid interfering with existing wireless signals.

In 2019, KnowledgeRelay approached Benchmark to solve the hardware side of their remote monitoring challenge. Leveraging KnowledgeRelay's mastery of data migration and analytics and Benchmark Secure Technology's expertise in custom sensor networks for the U.S. military, the teams created a custom secure, wireless sensor network for Idaho National Laboratory.

This project's sensor network can replace costly manual surveillance for residual heat removal (RHR) pumps, a critical piece of nuclear equipment. More than 80% of the work performed in United States nuclear power plants is typically associated with preventative maintenance and equipment monitoring. Most RHR pumps are older and don't have the monitoring sensors found on newer equipment. The previous process for monitoring these pumps was an expensive, labor-intensive, and often dangerous manual activity.

Benchmark developed a custom sensor module called a Multi-Sensing Monitoring Unit, or MSMU, that effectively monitors the RHR pumps using sound, vibration, and temperature. The MSMU integrated several commercially available sensors to detect sound precisely. The system monitors the RHR pumps only when they are operational to preserve battery life. Data is then transmitted securely to central computer systems using an Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) signal that will not interfere with other RF signals already in use. The MSMU feeds data into KnowledgeRelay's software to alert staff when anything out of the ordinary is detected.

Benchmark and KnowledgeRelay's sensor network was piloted and tested extensively. It proved to be a success, starting up and shutting down with the RHR pump and consistently generating data. Benchmark and KnowledgeRelay's solution is under consideration for deployment on RHR pumps in other nuclear plants in the United States. Idaho National Laboratory is currently evaluating how vibration and contactless sensors can monitor other equipment to increase safety and lower costs.

Read the full case study to learn more about Benchmark's work on this project and the technology involved.


For the complete 2019 report on this project from the U.S. Department of Energy, read: "Automating Surveillance Activities in a Nuclear Power Plant."

Benchmark Secure Technology Connected Devices Design & Engineering

about the author

Jennifer McAlpine

Jennifer McAlpine is the Product Marketing Manager at Benchmark, communicating the value of Benchmark's product realization services. Prior to joining Benchmark, she was a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, serving in U.S. Embassies in Ireland, Gabon, Algeria, and Guinea. She holds an MBA from W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and a BA in Economics from the University of Minnesota.

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