Critical capabilities in Mexico’s power sectorMay 4, 2022
César García, managing director of Grupo IAI, talks to The Energy Year about the company’s involvement in nuclear power in Mexico and its plans for partnerships. With over 28 years of experience in energy, IT and telecommunications, Grupo IAI specialises in the engineering, construction, modifications and maintenance of industrial facilities, including conventional, renewable and nuclear power plants.
How involved has Grupo IAI been in the Laguna Verde nuclear power station?
As a company, our scope of work within the power sector is based on generation, as we have the capability of working on combined-cycle power plants, geothermal and hydro plants.
Grupo IAI was born in Veracruz, where the Laguna Verde nuclear station is located. We have carried out many modification packages in this facility. We were involved in the important power upgrade project, which increased the station’s initial capacity by 20% [from 675 to 810 MW]. This was a huge project for us and took us about three to four years to complete, working hand-in-hand with the CFE [Federal Electricity Commission], Iberdrola, Alstom and other companies. We provided a high number of human resources for that project – around 700 people.
Since then, we have mostly been engaged in activities during refuelling outage operations or in the installation of facilities of different natures. For example, we worked for Holtec International on the construction of an interim storage facility of spent fuel for the nuclear station, as well as for the CFE in the construction of temporary storage facilities for radioactive waste.
These are just some of the many smaller activities we have carried out around Laguna Verde lately, which also include the modernisation of the plant’s turbine and steam generator for Alstom, in addition to maintenance and inspection work at the plant.
As of today, we are still working at Laguna Verde because we participate in every outage the facility undergoes via maintenance and modification packages. This plant is crucial for us simply because 80% of our revenue comes from the work we carry out in it.
What activities and projects have you carried out in Laguna Verde in 2022?
This year, both units will have refuelling outages. The first one begins in March, and it will take six weeks. We had to start work two months prior because the idea is to get everything ready for when we are allowed into the plant. For instance, if we need to change pipes, we have sections of the pipes already welded, painted and cleaned. We take the pieces to the plant that already fit, to save time, enhance safety and minimise exposure to radiation.
We have a shop where we carry out “pre-outage activities.” It is located outside the security fence and there we have sand blasting, painting and welding capabilities. We have another small area inside the plant to finish off the last details. This not only goes for all the different materials and pipes but also for the electrical equipment, instrumentation and mechanical devices.
The outage that begins in March 2022 includes the maintenance for two large electric motors. This involves the removal of the two motors from the primary containment, the removal of interferences for transportation to the maintenance area, and then returning them back to the containment.
In addition to this, we are going to do nine modification packages, and we will be working with GE on several activities related to the nuclear reactor. We have worked with GE for more than 20 years in the reactor side of the business. The engineering of the modification packages is prepared by the CFE, and outages in Laguna Verde normally occur every 18 months.
What type of work culture is required when working in a nuclear power plant?
The most important thing is to have a top-quality assurance system, making sure that all the workers are qualified to do the job. When working in a nuclear power plant, the mindset is completely different from working for a typical steam or hydro project. Procedures ought to be followed religiously, and an ingrained safety culture and quality assurance are differentiating factors.
One has to understand that working within a radioactive environment requires other terms and conditions. The staff has to be trained in a certain way to work in a radiation environment – for example, working on the turbine area in Laguna Verde, which is a boiling water reactor, which implies high levels of radiation exposure.
What recent works have you carried out in combined-cycle power plants?
At the beginning of 2022, we had 75 people working in the combined-cycle power plant in Valladolid, Merida performing plant maintenance. We also have the EPC capabilities for these types of plants. We offer turnkey solutions that enable us to either build new plants from scratch or do maintenance work – revamping.
How important is configuration management for upgrading Pemex’s refineries?
Refineries in Mexico are an interesting case study, as deep revamping works are needed to modernise them and enhance their utilisation. One of the areas in which we are experts in the nuclear scene is configuration management, which basically refers to the documentation of a given facility, which must match the status quo of the physical facility. This is essential because when it comes to maintaining or revamping a certain plant, one has to base it on these documents to carry out a modernisation based on the original structure.
The problem is that the physical status of Pemex’s installations has nothing to do with the documentation, which also hampers any attempts at maintenance. This is why configuration management is so important, and it is something that Pemex has been pursuing in order to carry out an accurate revamping of its installations.
How important are partnerships for Grupo IAI, and what objectives does the group have in the coming years?
Grupo IAI has a very good relationship with GE, but we have also worked with other companies such as Toshiba or Mitsubishi. We are looking at solidifying ties with EPC players as we are eager to do pipe installation, which is essential in the types of work we carry out. We are very strong in electrical and instrumentation and control installation and putting mechanical equipment in place such as heat exchangers, generators or steam generators, etc. Moreover, we want to strengthen our presence in these areas and strategic partnerships are the answer.
As for the steps we will take in the coming years, we will be busy this year with diverse works in the Laguna Verde facility. From 2023, we are looking at other opportunities that involve combined-cycle power plants and even renewable energy projects. We are willing to put our capabilities to the service of any need the power sector has in Mexico.