DOE Pulse
  • Number 398  |
  • September 30, 2013

Virtual control room melds neuroscience, engineering

Nuclear operator crews run simulations in INL's virtual control room.

Nuclear operator crews run simulations in
INL's virtual control room.

Some 10 shrill alarms were going off at once. In what looked and sounded like a nuclear plant control room, it appeared that there had been a steam generator tube rupture. In charge of solving the problem: A pair of neuroscience graduate students doing summer research at DOE's Idaho National Laboratory with the Human Factors group — a team of researchers who study the intersections between minds and machines.

The Human Systems Simulation Lab (HSSL) at INL is a good facsimile of a real nuclear control room. Human factors researchers use the HSSL as a test-bed for new control features. The capability, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program, is now helping Duke Energy embark on an upgrade project for several of its nuclear plant control rooms.

The features of a real-life control room are loaded onto the lab's 45 touch-screen panels, which are arranged around the room. A computer on the other side of the room can simulate anything and everything that can go wrong. Updated alarms, gauges, and control panels are designed with human psychology in mind, and then put to the test under simulated accident conditions. The HSSL offers nuclear energy utilities a low-risk, cost-effective framework for design and modernization.

[Shannon Palus, 208.526.7785,]