Mega-project management

Restarting a 500 MW nuclear reactor unit at Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering site was seen as the fastest way to deliver much-needed additional clean and economical power to the region. This mega project has employed teamwork, communication, and good old-fashioned construction and project management skills and is now nearing the critical hand-off between field construction and commissioning.

Ontario Power Generation, Canada

Electricity supply is very much on the agenda in Ontario, Canada’s largest province. Driven by an economic growth of about 2.6 per cent this year, electricity demand is expanding steadily and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is looking for Ontarians to be using 169 TWh by 2014 – an average annual growth rate of 0.9 per cent. The government has put out requests for proposals for almost 3000 MW of new capacity (including conservation) and plans more. But when it came to a fast delivery to market of more than 500 MW of clean electricity capacity, the fastest option pointed to Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the publicly owned generation company that operates about 73 per cent of the in-service capacity in the province.

Restart chosen

The decision was to go ahead with plans to restart Pickering A Unit 1, a massive energy construction project that would result in 515 MW of nuclear capacity being online within about 15 months. Pickering A is a multi-unit station consisting of four 500 MW Candu units. Unit 4 is operational with Units 2 and 3 remaining in lay-up pending a decision on their return to service.

OPG is both the project manager and the general contractor. At its peak, the project provided about 1900 jobs for the contractors and 1200 for OPG project support and maintenance employees. Total investment to achieve the restart is expected to be in the range of C$975 million ($805 million), within about eight per cent of the initial estimate. Construction is now over 80 per cent complete. Target for the lifting of the guaranteed shut-down state (the regulatory approved beginning of the plant’s power up for final commissioning) is June to mid-July, within four to six weeks of the initial schedule. Following start-up, the unit will undergo an expected three-month commissioning period.

System overhaul

The project was designed to return to working order a Candu reactor that had not operated for seven years and to hand over to operators a refurbished unit that is in compliance with current licensing and regulatory standards. The investment is expected to allow the unit to operate for another 14 years.


Figure 1. Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering A nuclear power station on the shores of Lake Ontario
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The refurbishment is much more than a repair job. It involves overhauling every major system in the plant, including the moderator system, the cooling water system, the heat transport system, the fuelling machines, the shutdown systems, the boilers, the turbine-generators, and much of the support systems necessary to run a nuclear unit. The project broke down into 440 engineering packages and 892 design change notices. The task list contained over 20 000 individual items requiring 2000-plus comprehensive work packages, and almost 2.9 million individual parts. Scaffolding alone required some 26 402 metres of piping and 6 km of ladders and the project included about 1.8 million person hours of work. Since field work began there has been a 2.5 per cent push on the scope of the project through discovery work.

Construction management

Major field activities on the project began in July 2004. At that time, all design engineering for the project was complete, as was the assessing for the first four months of construction. In addition, most of the assessing for the entire project was in hand and more than 90 per cent of the materials for the first three months were on site. Work schedule and budget were finalized, and all major contracts were in place.

Project modification, refurbishment and maintenance work was grouped into 14 individual sub-projects, based on the physical plant. The enabling functions of scheduling, assessing, engineering, materials management, quality control, performance reporting, IT, security, radiation protection and public affairs were in place and ready to support field efforts. About 500 people contribute to the management of this project for OPG, although the formal project support group numbers about 50 with an additional 16 people devoted to the accounting side.


Figure 2. When work began in July 2004 more than 90 per cent of the materials for the first three months were on site
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This is a nuclear facility, which clearly adds to the complexity of managing the project. However, virtually all of the modification work could be completed by calling on the trade skills of the major contractors. Most of the craft labour was hired from union halls. The challenge was first to find sufficient trades people given the competition in the trades market for their skill sets, and then to manage the schedule, the costs and the people.

First test was to schedule all 20 000 tasks into an efficient and integrated process that maximized productivity in the context of the security, safety and regulatory procedures necessary for a nuclear facility. Just as important was to create an infrastructure that allowed for real-time adjustments in logic and sequencing as construction progressed.

Training requirements were especially steep because of the nuclear environment. Every worker at the site was subject to a complete security check before being issued an entry pass. Workers also had to take and pass a radiation protection course to be certified to work inside containment. Another five days of training were required for many trades to cover other issues such as asbestos awareness, confined space entry, environmental qualification awareness and fall arrest.

From the beginning, OPG construction managers coached the various contractors. Given the complex interrelationships of the tasks, and the confined spaces available for fabrication and working, it was essential that clear lines of communication be established and enforced. Not only is the unit’s working space complicated because of the nuclear environment, Pickering A’s older design is crowded and has more and smaller parts located inside restricted work areas than newer nuclear designs. Many workers find themselves cramped amongst the equipment, working in full plastic suit protection, including breathing apparatus.

One measure of the success of this collaborative approach is the safety record on this job, which is excellent by any construction standard and applies across all contractors and OPG staff. To mid-February 2005, contractors and OPG staffers combined had worked almost six million hours without a lost-time injury.

New proceedures

Like any complex project, task completion and schedule adherence were not 100 per cent according to plan. In July and August, at the start of the construction phase, momentum was slow to build because of difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers of skilled trades people. In the early months a bow wave of tasks started to build up. Project planning included a single ten hour shift on a five-day week basis. A second shift was added as well as regular weekend activity to work this wave down. For much of October through to Christmas the project was running almost 24/7. During the autumn, the project had pressed into service just about every available electrician in the province, not to mention many more from outside the province, to work on the massive job of pulling special environmentally qualified cable throughout the reactor building and supporting areas.

In September of last year, the construction management team implemented a tactic designed to resolve issues affecting successful completion of tasks scheduled for the completion of the job. As project completion gets closer and the number of remaining tasks dwindles, schedule adherence in the current week becomes even more important since fewer alternative tasks are available to be picked up if something interferes with completion of the task at hand. In addition, the integration of work is becoming more difficult and critical and interaction between work groups and contractors more complex. The solution: a ‘come together, let it all hang out, twice-daily meeting’ dubbed the PIT (for project integration team).


Figure 3. The turbine generator set includes three low pressure turbines spinning at 1800 rpm
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Every stakeholder is involved in the PIT – from field engineering and engineering, to each of the contractors, supply chain, project management, senior management, OPG Operations and Maintenance staff, and representatives of the trade unions. Even public affairs get involved. Up-to-the-minute earned value curves by work group and task work down curves by sub-project decorate the walls. This provides all meeting participants with an instant overview of project and contractor performance. About 50 people are typically in attendance as the group addresses safety issues, follow-up items from previous meetings, and the action board, before ploughing through each and every task for that shift on the 168-plus page master schedule.

Quality control

Handing over a nuclear unit that will operate reliably and economically is the objective of the Return to Service team. And work quality takes a seat at the project management table. Contractors working on the restart were required to have recognized quality assurance programmes in place, as were the OPG groups. Providing oversight on the quality front, including the materials handling process and pressure boundary issues, falls under the purview of Performance Improvement and Nuclear Oversight, an organization that is under the authority of OPG’s chief nuclear officer. A brigade of quality inspectors is in the field every day to monitor progress and help get the work done right the first time.

Performance measures

Keeping such a complex project on track, while also being able to identify, assess and then make adjustments has been of critical importance given the province’s desire for new energy sources. The level of oversight on this project is perhaps unprecedented. OPG’s project support group has put in place management information systems that deliver good quality reporting on key project metrics on a weekly basis – compared to an industry norm of monthly reporting.

Project management report regularly on project progress, along with reports from an independent auditor hired to provide third-party oversight on schedule and cost performance. A detailed report of progress and spending is discussed every Monday at a meeting of the company’s Operations Committee, consisting largely of vice-presidents and senior vice presidents. The president and other very senior executives discuss the earned value report every Friday, current to the day before. A daily earned value report is generated but with limited distribution.


Figure 4. Containment airlock. The blue door is used by personnel, the bigger opening is for large equipment
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From the beginning, the strategy was to decentralize project reporting by making powerful information retrieval tools available to everyone involved in the project. A host of easy to use interfaces were developed to bring the right information to the right desktops. Some 250 000 documents required for the project are available online for easy access by project staff. Some of these were leading-edge, such as department productivity metrics that effectively measure knowledge worker productivity, putting a price tag on things like the real cost of delivering a design change notice. The Project Work Management System is an especially powerful tool, giving users the ability to follow the lifecycle of work that is scoped, planned, executed and closed out – all 20 000 tasks. Of particular importance in the closing months of the project is the construction completion declaration tool – a powerful search engine that saves large amounts of time at a critical point in the project as the paperwork is pulled together for the pass-over from construction to operations.

Accurate records of materials and all work done along with an audit trail of every change to the plant is essential in a nuclear plant, for operational, legal and regulatory reasons. The document management system in place offers three key advantages: the use of a bar code system to track the physical location of each of the tasks; the production of metrics on the closeout rate and timing (target is that paperwork is completed within 48 hours of physical work completion) on work packages; and the electronic availability of all work packages to the entire project. Similar innovations were developed on the accounting side with the work management system linked directly with vendor systems to enable two week payment cycle as well as cost data that is no more than four days old.


Figure 5. The Inspection of pressure tubes at the reactor face.
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Project support staff put these systems to work to track a number of different types of metrics but the main variables are earned value (on both schedule adherence and cost performance) and task completions and work down curve. Everything is analyzed by work group as well as sub-project. High-level milestones were also developed for each of the 14 sub-projects and critical path analysis, as would be expected, is relied on to guide sequencing decisions.

The concept of earned value is relatively new to OPG and to the nuclear outage experience which largely relies on task completion and work down curves and it is gaining credence as the Unit 1 project proceeds. Two key metrics that project management tracks and acts upon on a continual basis are the schedule performance index (SPI) and the cost performance index (CPI). SPI is an earned value measurement of how much work is completed compared to plan. If it is below 1.0, mitigation of some sort is likely through the scheduling department to make adjustments to critical path. CPI is a yardstick of the value for money, a reading on project productivity.

Taking ownership

It is still too early to call the Unit 1 return to service a success. OPG’s acting president Richard Dicerni recently told reporters it is not yet a “gimme putt”. As of mid-February the project was on track to meet its deadlines and its spending limits. As any construction manager will tell you, the biggest fear is that a serious accident could derail the project, or unforeseen commissioning issues surface after the plant is fired up. What can be said with confidence, however, is that a powerful culture of continual improvement in how OPG manages the people, the performance reporting, and the schedule has taken root at Ontario’s major electrical utility. The people at OPG own the project now, not the other way around.

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