ATS building facility to aid nuclear plant refurbishment
CAMBRIDGE — When you’re tackling a multi-year, multibillion-dollar refurbishment of the largest operating nuclear plant in the world, there’s not much room for error.
That’s why ATS Automation Tooling Systems is constructing a nearly 44,000-square foot facility at its Cambridge campus that will house an exact replica of some of the infrastructure found at the Bruce Power plant near Kincardine.
Inside what will be called the Major Component Replacement Integration Facility, ATS will be able to thoroughly test its automated tooling systems before they’re deployed on the real thing.
“It takes a lot of the risk out,” ATS vicepresident and general manager Eric Wallace said Thursday as officials gathered to break ground for the facility.
The testing facility builds upon a multiyear contract inked last year for the supply of ATS’ automated tooling systems and related services to the Bruce project. Initial orders had a value of at least $40 million.
“We’re excited by the growing partnership,” said ATS chief executive officer Andrew Hider.
The expansion onto an existing ATS building will include a large staging area and an 11,000-square foot area that will house the mock-up of the reactor faces where the tooling systems will be deployed.
“That’s the part where all the action happens,” Wallace explained.
It will be an impressive space, stretching nearly 13 metres (42 feet) from the floor to the underside of the joist, with 3.5-metre (12 foot) cooling pits below ground. Columns and platforms will all be identical to those in the Bruce Power reactor vaults.
The multi-year, $13-billion project to refurbish six of eight Candu reactors at the Bruce site requires a lot of equipment and tools to be taken in and out of the vaults.
The ATS tools must be able to interface with other tools and reactor components; the mock-up is intended to perfect the tools and identify any potential flaws before the actual work begins and costly delays are incurred.
The facility will include about 6,000 square feet of office space that visiting Bruce Power staff can use as the project continues. The testing facility is expected to be ready next spring; the refurbishment project gets underway in earnest at the Bruce site in 2020 and is intended to prolong its life through 2064.
Bruce Power provides 30 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.
Wallace said ATS will have a use for its new space even after the specific Bruce project is complete.
The tooling systems — which Bruce Power chief executive officer Mike Rencheck said are “like surgeon’s tools when they’re operating” — are typically controlled by technicians from a remote room. That increases safety and reduces radiation exposure.
The advanced technology that ATS is bringing to the table “will allow us to complete our projects on time and on budget,” said Rencheck.
Similar ATS tooling systems are also in use at the refurbishment project underway at the Darlington nuclear station east of Toronto, noted Eric Kiisel, senior vice-president of the energy group at the Cambridge-based company.
Several other Cambridge companies are involved in the Darlington and Bruce Power projects, including BWXT Canada and Aecon Group.
ATS, founded in 1978, employs about 3,500 people at 23 manufacturing plants and 50 offices in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and China.
ATS Automation CEO Andrew Hider, left, and Bruce Power CEO Mike Rencheck took part in a groundbreaking ceremony at Thursday.