The Human System Simulation Laboratory (HSSL) at Idaho National Laboratory is a complete virtual nuclear control room created to safely test new technologies before they are implemented in real commercial reactor control rooms. The HSSL mimics both digital and analog systems, which typically support physical controls like switches, gauges, keyboards and touch screens. This one-of-a-kind control room simulator is configurable and can support a variety of real control room formats, and from there test digital upgrades.
How does modernization help the nuclear industry?
The HSSL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program to safely extend the operating lifetimes of nuclear power plants. This effort includes control room modernization, which can replace aging analog technology to enhance safety and functionality within plants. The simulation laboratory enables scientists to improve control room designs by studying human interactions with digital and analog instruments and controls. The HSSL can offer nuclear energy utilities a low-risk, cost-effective framework for design and modernization.
What is human factors research?
Human factors is a branch of psychology applied to things people use every day – iPhones, Facebook, the turn signal lights on the dashboards of cars. Researchers study how people interact with technology. Their findings and observations inform designs that are intuitive to the human mind. Human factors can be used to improve aspects of nuclear control rooms by examining how operators gather information from indicators and interact with controls.
What can be improved?
A modernized control room will be one that minimizes distraction and lessens the need for operators to ping-pong their focus from panel to panel. Digital displays can be added to organize information from several gauges into visual, at-a-glance overviews of what is happening in a process or system. Updated alarm displays can be made to fade into the background when all is well but turn eye-catching red if conditions turn critical.
How are new concepts tested?
Once designs for new display features are complete, researchers can test prototypes in the control room simulator. Real control room crews run through scenarios, while cameras look on to capture data on operator behaviors. Then, like any good science, it’s back to the drawing board to tweak and improve for maximum usability.