An engineer by training, supplemented by an INSEAD executive programme, Christian Jeanneau joined Assystem in 1995 as a testing engineer. In 2022, he was appointed Senior Vice-President for the Group’s digital activities before being nominated in July 2023, Executive Vice President International, Project Management & Digital. He is also Director of the Assystem Institute, a training body to transfer skills and knowledge to new generations of engineers.
Accelerating nuclear development around the world through digital
To achieve carbon neutrality, the French government has announced the construction of up to fourteen new power plants by 2050. This trend is being replicated in several countries, where nuclear programmes – large and small - are being launched to produce low-carbon energy, to combat global warming and guarantee energy independence. At the same time, existing nuclear power plants must continue to produce electricity through maintenance or life extension work for some countries such as France. The challenges are numerous in the nuclear industry, so today we’re going to talk about how digital tools and technologies can help.
Accelerating nuclear development around the world through digital
As one of the main levers for achieving carbon neutrality and combating global warming, nuclear power faces various challenges that digital technology can help address.
The climate challenge requires us to find different ways to produce electricity - we need to move from carbon-producing fossil fuels to low-carbon alternatives to meet the domestic, industrial, and mobility needs of a growing global population. One of the answers to this energy transition lies in nuclear power, which can produce the large quantities of low-carbon electricity that our societies need. "This option chosen by various countries, as evidenced by the momentum around new programmes, poses several challenges - both in maintaining the operation of existing plants in the construction of new facilities or the preservation and transmission of knowledge - to which digital can provide answers, "said Christian Jeanneau, Senior Vice President in charge of Digital at Assystem.
"It is imperative that countries around the world make the switch from over-consumption of fossil fuels to a greater share of low-carbon electricity. Clearly, the adoption of digital technologies for engineering is enabling this energy transition to be implemented more quickly."
- The first of these challenges concerns the continued operation of the current fleet, which requires a high level of safety and availability. Thanks to their modelling and simulation capabilities, digital technologies help to better prepare and anticipate interventions - either related to maintenance or to extend the life of facilities - at every stage of the life cycle: during the study phase, design, justification to the regulatory authorities, or even during the preparation of maintenance interventions.
Digital twins, for example, allow for in situ training, resulting in faster and better controlled interventions. Digital technology also contributes to secure the transmission of elements, technical data and plans needed by operators.
"Through the ability to manage data and provide visualisations, digital technologies allow for more testing to be carried out, ensuring people are suitably trained for interventions to be delivered right first time."
- The second issue is accelerating the construction phases of facilities. "To achieve our energy transition objectives, we hope to be able to build new facilities in seven or eight years since the first authorisation decrees were issued. We estimate that digital technology will make it possible to increase performance by around 30%," emphasises Christian Jeanneau.
- In the preparatory phase, because of its ability to provide a visual representation, digital technology is a lever to enlighten the decisions of the control authorities and help the public concerned to better understand the project.
- In the design and development phase of the technology, it accelerates collaboration between functional architects, manufacturers, and the supply chain as a whole, by promoting data sharing and collaboration.
- In the construction phase, digital technology enables visualisation, simulation, and measurement of physical progress: "For example, technologies can scan an installation under construction in less than 24 hours, compare the constructed images with those provided in the initial plans, and make corrections in real time," comments Christian Jeanneau.
Another major advantage is that digital technology allows recopying and serial effects, with all the advantages and benefits that this brings: fewer errors, easier decisions to make, faster problem solving and faster project delivery.
"Limiting changes, faster resolution of problems, smoother construction... The time savings with digital are considerable."
- The third challenge is the careful management of knowledge and expertise over the long term. This is imperative in an environment where the facilities - with their great technological complexity - are among the most closely monitored, regulated, and controlled in the world: especially since, with the extension of the lifespan of power plants, the safety requirements and justifications that had to be maintained for 40 years will have to be maintained for another 20 years.
Digital technology facilitates this capitalisation by enabling the recording, archiving and use of this growing and complex volume of data: "All this data must be organised and maintained in a state of permanent availability. Digital technology, with all its language and image reading technologies, allows us to access it very quickly and easily," explains Christian Jeanneau.
Another benefit is that digital technology, which is the language of the younger generation, makes knowledge transmission more fun and effective.
"One of our challenges is to welcome new generations, to learn to work in a collaborative mode and in a more extensive way. Digital enables this."
Are there any obstacles to overcome when deploying digital technology?
Of course, the changes brought about by the integration of digital technology logically generate various types of obstacles that need to be overcome:
- The first concerns the recording, sharing, and security of data on a cloud, which raises issues of intellectual property and sovereignty. This issue can be resolved by creating specific IT architectures that protect data.
- The second is organizational: the recognised performance of digital technologies is leading to a new way of working that can disrupt business processes. It’s therefore necessary to find the right convergence between respecting the knowledge and business processes inherited from old engineering practices while considering the benefits offered by digital technology. This is a necessary condition for change to be accepted.
- The third obstacle lies in the multiplication of tools and interfaces between these tools, in addition to the incompressible evolution of digital technologies, whose lifespan is much shorter than that of nuclear installations. The challenge is therefore to ensure data continuity and good interoperability of tools, which are the key to effective collaboration.
Engineering + digital = the key to successfully accelerating nuclear projects
Combining digital technologies with expertise in engineering and nuclear business processes enables complex situations to be handled more efficiently and quickly. Assystem has a unique set of skills allowing it to provide a value proposition throughout the project cycle, up to and including change management, via a dedicated service.
Discover some of our digital projects in the nuclear industry:
- Digital test & commissioning for an EPR
- Optimisation of complex schedules for unit shutdowns
- Predictive maintenance for hydraulic rakes in nuclear power plant
- 4D BIM to secure construction schedules of ITER
- Data science solution to extract and rationalise requirements for a nuclear project
- Digital twin of nuclear waste treatment plant