Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dominion’s Lisa Hilbert: Why a Fresh Perspective Keeps Nuclear Safe and Reliable

Lisa Hilbert
The following post was sent to us by Dominion’s Lisa Hilbert for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year

This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Lisa Hilbert has worked in the nuclear energy industry for 24 years. She is currently the manager for nuclear outages and planning at Dominion’s Surry nuclear power station 17 miles from Newport News, Va. She began her career in the company’s mechanical engineering department, and held positions in operations, corrective action and nuclear oversight before joining the company’s Outage & Planning team.

What I do and why I enjoy doing it
Outage & Planning coordinates the preparation and execution of all scheduled work—including nuclear outages, when the reactors are shut down to replace used fuel and conduct scheduled maintenance. Although each outage only lasts a few weeks, planning for them begins more than a year in advance to ensure that all activities are performed safely and efficiently. My work is challenging and dynamic—never boring. I’m constantly learning, which I love!

Why I think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future
Nuclear plants are the workhorses of America’s electricity generation system, and are an important component of a diverse mix of energy sources. Nuclear facilities operate safely, cleanly and dependably day in and day out. I believe that letting ourselves become overly dependent on any single fuel source would leave us vulnerable to swings in availability and cost, which could impact our ability to provide the electricity our society has come to depend on every minute of every day.

How I bring innovation into the nuclear energy industry
I am convinced that diversity in the workplace results in better decisions. I seek out input from people who are outside the mainstream of the nuclear industry. A fresh perspective, one not colored by “how we’ve always done it,” can open our eyes to creative alternatives.

What a typical nuclear plant employee thinks when he or she hears the word “reliability”
Equipment reliability is a key concept for those who work in nuclear power plants, which typically run at 100 percent power to provide reliable base load electricity to our customers. Plant equipment must not only be well maintained but kept up-to-date, to ensure that our plants can run for long periods of time. The preventive maintenance we perform during scheduled outages improves our equipment reliability and performance and helps decrease the need for unexpected repairs.

Some of the most significant projects I’ve helped implement to improve plant reliability include inspecting and coating the plant’s service water lines that ensure availability of cooling water for the facility’s nuclear safety systems.

We’ve also made modifications to the plant’s switchyard and safety systems in support of a planned high-voltage transmission line to enhance the reliable delivery of power to our customers.

For more on nuclear outage workers, check out the @nukeroadie’s article, "Nuclear Power Plant Outages ‘No Place for Cowboys.’"

2 comments:

Tim said...

Diversity seems to be an important factor for the nuclear industry like some many others in order to get a wide range of perspectives. How do you balance people wanting to bring in new ideas while staying on the path set by people who have been in the industry a long time?

Terry Herrmann said...

Great question, Tim!

I have been working in the nuclear industry since 1977. My experience covers the gamut of technical work including design, construction, testing, root cause analysis, system engineering, PRA and more.

One of the most important lessons you learn from being in this business for a long time is that you need to continually learn to do things better. A plant considered to have very good performance in the past would likely be at the bottom in performance today. That wouldn't have happened if we clung to "the way it's always been done."

I continually seek to learn and from people with a different perspective than mine. That said, there are lessons that less experienced individuals should seek to learn from those of us who've been around for a long time. Human beings are imperfect and we all make mistakes. When you've been around for a while, you get to know more about what things lead to those mistakes and hos to avoid them.