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Going inside the vault

Bruce Power boosts worker safety by increasing bandwidth to its CANDU reactors with networked analogue/IP CCTV system.

It’s one thing to string up CCTV cameras around a building, but it’s another when that building is a concrete vault that hosts a nuclear reactor.


December 13, 2007
By Vawn Himmelsbach

Topics

Bruce Power, a private nuclear generator of electricity, was already
using conventional CCTV equipment for operations and security. But it
was stuck with old technology — thanks to a heavily regulated industry
and the inability to add new cameras in its existing vaults. But it had
a tall order for its future requirements: high-quality video, at 30
images per second per camera, and thousands of cameras with hundreds of
operators.

The company, which took over the site on the shores
of Lake Huron from Ontario Hydro in 2001, controls eight CANDU nuclear
reactors. Each reactor is located inside a concrete vault that is 100
feet long, 50 feet high and nearly 100 feet wide, with walls that are
six feet thick. The only way to get signals in and out of the vault is
through what is referred to as “cable penetration,” where the cables
literally penetrate through the concrete wall.

Many of the
penetrations, designed years ago, were already at maximum capacity. And
since the nuclear industry is heavily regulated, Bruce Power was unable
to make any changes to those structures without extensive engineering
studies and certifications.

“You just can’t run some cabling
from here to there to set up a camera network,” says Steve Cannon,
manager of investor and media relations with Bruce Power.

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The
company worked with partner Intercon Security to come up with a
solution which would combine traditional analogue cameras with newer IP
technology. “This was done very carefully, and through a whole series
of regulations.”

Bruce Power faced a number of challenges, says
Andrew Young, senior sales executive of national and enterprise
solutions with Intercon.

When the vaults were originally
designed, no one thought there would be any need for additional
communications infrastructure. But technology evolved, and stakeholders
wanted to have more information from inside the vaults. “They wanted to
put more cameras in there but they couldn’t because they had no
cables,” says Young.

All kinds of instrumentation are run
through the cable penetrations. “You can only have a few holes punched
into that for obvious safety reasons,” says Cannon. “I think the
creativity and the challenge here is finding ways to use the
penetrations that were already there in a way that would satisfy our
business needs and our regulators.”

Intercon suggested that
Bruce Power put in single-mode fibre, which would provide massive
bandwidth into the vaults. “We weren’t just thinking video,” says
Young. Rather than looking at audio, video and data as separate
entities, it took a network-based approach, so anything running over
that network simply becomes data. While Intercon designed the system,
it hasn’t done any installation work due to regulatory reasons, Bruce
Power has its own installation technicians on site.

The project
consists of a CCTV system in each of the eight vaults. Multi-strand,
single-node fibre optic ribbon cable is being installed in each
penetration, which will combine analogue infrastructure with IP
connectivity. It’s using Panasonic WJ-GX series encoders and decoders
with the Panasonic WJ-SX850 Matrix, as well as Cisco Ether Channel
technology that provides up to 8 Gbps (Gigabits per second)
communications over the fibre optic cabling. Up to 32 live video feeds
are accommodated on each fibre, with 30 frames per second.

The
cameras provide Bruce Power with the ability to target individual
pieces of equipment. “It’s not a place you can go into easily to
monitor equipment,” says Cannon.

Bruce Power is responsible for
controlling radiation — there are industry standards for the amount of
radiation the general public is allowed to receive over the course of a
year, as well as stringent guidelines as to how much radiation that
nuclear energy workers are exposed to.

“Our first responsibility
is the safety of the environment, of our people, of the plant itself,”
says Cannon. You’ll find that the safest generating stations in the
world are also the most economically profitable — you can’t separate
the two.” When workers go into a vault to do maintenance, the cameras
allow a supervisor or co-worker to watch the work that’s being done and
see what needs to be done next. This is based on an industry concept
referred to as ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable). “You plan out
your work so the workers can do it efficiently with the minimum amount
of nuclear exposure,” says Cannon. “You don’t even have to be in the
room — you can monitor it through the camera system. That plays
perfectly into that whole ALARA principle.”

It also helps
provide early detection of any maintenance issues that might arise
within the vaults. Bruce Power has an extensive program of predictive
maintenance, and the CCTV system is another tool that allows workers to
see if anything breaks, needs replacing or is coming to the end of its
life.

“In most organizations micro-management is seen as a bad
thing,” says Young. “Inside a nuclear vault, micro-management is a
wonderful thing. You can literally have four or five people looking at
what one person is doing.”
There are up to 70 cameras inside each
vault, which allow workers to see almost every squar-inch of the vault.
There are also numerous cameras outside the vaults, monitored and
controlled by various workstations. An outage control centre runs and
monitors the outage progress.

“Our security group is going to be
taking advantage of the infrastructure that’s here to continue on with
more of their initiatives,” says Chris Barnes, director of CCTV for
Bruce Power. “To be able to bring video anywhere, any place, or cameras
to any location at will, is a big advantage.”

In the past, Bruce
Power used a pure analogue system, before moving to a hybrid one. “When
you run pure analogue that means you have a mountain of wiring,” he
says. “Logistically, it becomes so much work — for every camera you
need to run cabling.” Now, he can break the system out into small
sections using encoders, which not only provides more flexibility, but
also boosts reliability and redundancy.

The project also serves
as a means of future-proofing its infrastructure. The next evolution in
technology, says Barnes, will be when there’s no need for encoders and
decoders. This will allow Bruce Power to mix and match cameras and do
virtually anything it wants with the system.

“We’ll probably be
exceeding broadcast quality as time goes on because we’re getting into
mega-pixel cameras,” he says. “There’s probably no reason why we can’t
go to high-def cameras.”
At the moment, though, there are still some
limitations with IP. “Seven years ago when we started down this path we
knew that IP was going to gather steam,” says Young. “And it has.” But
the thing about IP that a lot of people don’t take into account is that
it’s difficult to get live, real-time video from hundreds of cameras
without reducing quality.

The design parameter Intercon has been
working with is to provide DVD quality using MPEG-2 live audio and
video on every camera. Some of the cameras on site are analogue, but
any camera inside of the vault comes out in a digital IP format.

Intercon
also established network nodes, so if Bruce Power wants to put a camera
in the middle of nowhere they don’t have to run the cable back to the
operations centre — they simply run it to the closest network node. If
the security department or the operations department wants to make use
of the system, it doesn’t matter, Through partitioning, they can
co-exist on the same system without affecting each other.

The
system capacity has just exceeded 8,000 cameras. “They don’t have 8,000
cameras on there and they may never get to that number,” says Young.
“But it means that will never be the roadblock.”

Vawn Himmelsbach is a Toronto-based freelance writer. 


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