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When thinking of nuclear power plants, iconic images of Three-Mile Island may materialize or perhaps a scene from a futuristic movie or perhaps recent reports seen on the news replay.

Few people are aware of the magnitude of the existing nuclear infrastructure and the plans for further construction. Even fewer are aware of the important role that cranes play in constructing these massive facilities. In other words, upon hearing “nuclear power,” most would not imagine delicate cranes rising up over a massive construction site delivering sensitive material and equipment to their resting place.

The Nuclear Energy Industry

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “There are currently 62 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 100 nuclear reactors in 31 states in the United States. Thirty-five of these plants have two or more reactors.”

A growth of 90% in nuclear energy was expected by 2035 before the Fukushima accident in 2011, reports World-Nuclear.org. Fukushima, the media frenzy which followed, and the older generation’s memory of a similar incident at Three-Mile Island, damaged the public trust in the nuclear industry.

Still, despite the hydrogen air explosions at the reactor in Japan World Nuclear states that, “the World Energy Outlook 2011 New Policies scenario has a 60% increase in nuclear capacity to 2035.”

The decrease is, of course, significant; however the nuclear energy industry is still one of the fastest growing international industries today. World-Nuclear.org for example, lists the U.S. as having plans to build 13 new reactors with some of them online as soon as 2020.

Nuclear Cranes

Last year, Meiswinkel, Meyer, and Schnell published Design and Construction of Nuclear Power Plants, an examination of the careful development of nuclear facilities which advocates for the expansion of our use of nuclear energy.

Cranes, in the most basic form, are used for construction, but even that can grow complex and require expertise. Meiswinkel’s book sites the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear plant in Finland as requiring the use of 13 tower cranes during building plus additional mobile cranes. Further, “three of the tower cranes, two of them inside the reactor building, could not be supplied directly, but had to be served by other cranes.”

The operation of so many cranes at Olkiluoto is only slightly more than the norm for such large scale constructions. But for nuclear power sites, with such sensitive material being handled, anti-collision restrictions are put in place and a specially designed layout plan allows for enough space for each crane’s range of movement.

Why Experts Are Necessary

A survey of the use of cranes by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission examined all incidences occurring with cranes at nuclear facilities between 1968 and 2002. This chart from page six of the report reveals that the staggering majority of incidences occurring after construction, during operations.

Crane incidencts

Clearly, when experts were available to ensure the proper planning and handling of cranes, fewer errors occurred with load slips and drops and personnel injury or fatality.  For maintenance, additional builds, and transportation operations on nuclear sites after the construction phase, it is good practice to continue to contract crane work out to experts.

Such measures are especially important in the case of nuclear plants. As the NRC report notes, “If these loads were to drop because of human error or crane failure, they could impact on stored spent fuel, fuel in the core, or on equipment that may be required to achieve safe shutdown or permit continued decay heat removal.“

Contact us to learn how our experts can ensure the safe operations of cranes at nuclear sites.

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