Operating industrial installations is a constant reminder that a zero risk situation does not exist. Indeed, in our business lines, external and natural events represent a significant proportion of our operational risk.
Mastering the technical operating conditions of our assets is fundamental to being a responsible operator, but it is not enough. Coping with threats and difficulties coming from our external environment is equally a part of our daily operations.
One year ago, the accident that happened at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, further to the tsunami triggered by the Tohoku earthquake, was a tragic demonstration of how situations can arise where not all risks have been anticipated.
Although electricians and power plant operators have always been aware of this fact, witnessing this event was a terrible reminder to all of them. Does it mean that in the wake of this event, we should give up all industrial activities, suppressing the cause to suppress the risk? There is an alternative third way which is to change the way we conceive the relationship between an industrial installation and its environment.
The concept of resistance implies that a plant should be designed so as not to be affected by its environment, should such an environment become hostile. Therefore, to make a building resistant, we have to work on its size and specifications.
However, the design of a facility also has to integrate the concept of resilience, that is to say the ability for a threatened installation to regain its vital functions in the shortest possible time span. The design of our plants and industrial works must integrate both of these dimensions, to guarantee the sustainability of our operations.
The size and specifications of an installation are conceived of in conjunction with the aim that these installations can stand up to identifiable events that we can foresee as potentially happening.
Beyond this, industrial companies must implement counter-measures to get back the vital functions of the plant in a time span that guarantees the protection of the population and of the environment. Hence, the competence and experience of the operating company are crucial to guaranteeing the efficiency of a process of resilience.
Being resistant is being strong. Being resilient is being smart in order to be adaptable. Like the human body, an industrial facility exists within a world that is not risk-free: one cannot live in an aseptic room, neither can a nuclear power plant.
Humans possess physical barriers to protect themselves from most external attacks, just like the safety mechanisms that protect the power plant from the outside, and the outside from the power plant.
Nevertheless, in both cases, this is not sufficient. This is why an additional system is required, which would be able to deal with any problems that occur despite the strong external barriers, for humans as well as for power plants.
Humans, like many living beings, developed an immune system, able to cope with disorders and to adapt to unprecedented intruders.
Power plants, just like living beings, should be able to maintain their homeostasis whatever conditions and attacks they may face, and to this end, comprise systems that ensure the overall well-functioning of the facility. This ability to be resilient is the key to sustainability.
Claude Nahon, Sustainable Development Senior Vice President, EDF
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Power. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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