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PÖYRY INSIGHTS / 30 Jun 2017

GIS and Nuclear Hazard Management

Potential benefits and possibilities of Geographic Information System (GIS) are numerous, and it is beginning to make in-roads into consequence assessments in high hazard industries such as the nuclear industry.

The importance of GIS for hazard assessment and hazard management derives from the fact that hazards and consequences evolve over distance/location and GIS is built to process location and time-based data. With GIS it is possible to provide striking, visual representations of data. GIS can be used to deliver a great deal of additional information concerning the relationships and trends between people, places and things that might otherwise have gone unnoticed inside a spreadsheet or report without the use of GIS techniques.

What is GIS?

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computerised system for capturing, storing, processing, and displaying location based data. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map. This enables people to more easily see, analyse, and understand patterns and relationships. Watch this short video for an introduction to GIS (source: ESRI Ireland).

GIS in Hazard Management

The importance of GIS for hazard assessment and management issues derive from the fact that hazards and consequences evolve over time and distance/location and that GIS is built to process location and time based data.

Consequence contours (see Figure 3 for an example) can be overlaid with site maps to assist manually performed consequence assessments. Risk assessment programs can even be programmed within the GIS to automatically calculate potential consequences and risks. By illustrating the potential damages that can be caused by the hazards, GIS helps planners to take appropriate actions.

GIS will therefore become an indispensable aid in the process of hazard assessment and hazard management.

Figure 3 - GIS can map out, illustrate and even calculate the consequences of an accident (image shows consequence contours for a potential accident).

Pöyry’s experience of GIS usage in nuclear & non-nuclear industries

Although relatively novel to the nuclear industry, there have already been some previous applications where Pöyry has been involved in using GIS in nuclear hazard management projects:

  • Nuclear Domino Effects Analysis & Nuclear Consequence Assessments (article available during Summer 2017)
  • GIS based Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) in site selection studies to select between 2 possible sites for a nuclear waste repository

Outside of the nuclear industry, GIS has been used in applications such as hazard management, Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) and asset management. Areas where Pöyry have experience in include:

Benefits to the Client

GIS mapping of accidents & their consequences provides a powerful and simple tool to:

  • Illustrate the potential effects across a large site from an accident to people, buildings and services
  • Present complex technical information to a multi-discipline or non-specialist audience
  • Provide mapping data which can be quickly & easily overlaid with other information (e.g. infrastructure, evacuation routes etc.)
  • Aid consequence assessments that are performed manually. Furthermore, consequence assessment programs can even be programmed within the GIS to automatically calculate potential consequences and risks, helping speed up calculations where a large number of assets and populated buildings are being considered in assessments
  • Better inform the client’s planning arrangements against the potential accidents
  • Provide a simple, powerful tool to help check if underlying calculations or hazard management arrangements are appropriate
  • Identify where more refined consequence assessments can improve hazard management arrangements.

Opinion: "A picture paints a thousands words"

GIS is a new technology to many people in the nuclear industry. Even so, Pöyry have learned that GIS overlays are very powerful in bringing together and illustrating "the bigger picture" to a multi-discipline or non-technical audience in a way that has simply not been feasible before. GIS greatly enhanced their ability to ask intelligent questions about the scenarios being presented to them. That will enable significantly more refined safety & planning arrangements.

Furthermore, the GIS maps can be quickly & easily overlaid with other information (e.g. infrastructure, proposed evacuation routes, proposed prevention/mitigation locations etc.) according to the needs of future planning projects.

The visual images can also help check if underlying assumptions look sensible & appropriate or seem to have unwarranted pessimisms. This prompted a review of the underlying assumptions, which have previously allowed us and the clients to implement more realistic assumptions, leading to reduced consequences, and for planning arrangements to be based on more credible scenarios. That allows for a “right first time” plan to be written in advance of the event which can be further refined as the accident scenario unfolds.

It's hard to predict precisely what could happen in an accident, due to variables which will always exist outside the control of the calculations. However, even a best estimate can be a huge help to decision makers who can use that information to develop plans for the prevention or mitigation of that accident. By putting consequence assessment data into GIS format, we can develop illustrated risk maps to highlight the potential impact of accidents, therefore helping planning arrangements.

GIS will therefore become an indispensable tool in the process of hazard assessment and hazard management across large sites.

Contact information

Alfonso Fox
Senior Safety Engineer
Mats Nyborg
Senior GIS Advisor