Skip to main content

Nuclear Industry Skeptic Turns into Believer

My name is Jennifer Correa, and I am a mechanical engineer with Structural Integrity Associates. I have been in the nuclear industry for about 13 years. At Structural Integrity, I co-manage the Fatigue Management Product, which deals with the fatigue of metal components due to changes in pressure and temperature in nuclear power plants. If the conditions that lead to metal fatigue are managed well, the components can operate safely for many years, well beyond the original licensing period.
Jennifer Correa
Jennifer Correa
Before I came to Structural Integrity, I didn’t know much about nuclear power. I understood it at a basic level, but only so far as the introduction that I received as part of my general mechanical engineering coursework. It was kind of mysterious and I had a vague idea that it was dangerous and risky. I’m a Californian and the opposition to nuclear power is strong in parts of this state. When I came to work for Structural Integrity, I was skeptical of nuclear power. Yet, over time, as I learned more about the design and operation of the plants, and about the regulatory environment in which the plants operate, I became convinced that nuclear power is an important part of our power mix and that we don’t take undue risks by having nuclear plants in our country.

My favorite part of my job is working with our clients to solve aging management issues. We help them determine the best course for their plant’s needs and then use our tools to meet those needs. This includes help with License Renewal Application preparation, ASME Section III fatigue analyses, Environmentally-Assisted Fatigue analysis, and so on. One of the tools of which I am especially proud is a cycle and fatigue management software called SI:FatiguePro 4.0, which we developed here at Structural Integrity (originally under EPRI sponsorship in the 1980s). Our software can be customized to the needs of each plant and is used to help manage fatigue by tracking plant transients and fatigue usage in critical components over time. With this software, plant engineers can monitor metal fatigue at their plants to ensure that cycle and fatigue limits are not exceeded. If any limits are projected to be exceeded, then the software gives them an early warning so that they can make plans to correct the issue before it becomes a problem.  

I think that the public would be more accepting of nuclear power if people understood the basics of how nuclear plants work. Most people would be surprised to learn that the amount of nuclear fuel used to operate nuclear plants is very small and that this fuel is used only as a heat source to turn water into steam, just like any other electrical generating plant that uses steam to run its turbines. The hyperbolic cooling towers, which have come to symbolize the nuclear power industry, are just cooling towers for secondary-side (non-radioactive) water – these types of towers are widely used in applications where large volumes of hot water must be cooled quickly, not just for generating nuclear power. The steam that we see coming out the top and the water being recirculated back into lakes, rivers, and oceans is closely monitored to ensure levels of radioactivity are well below federal limits. The water that runs through the reactors themselves, which does contain radioactive particles, is isolated from the water released back into the environment.  

Nuclear power generation is the only currently available method of generating large amounts of electricity, 24 hours a day, without producing any carbon emissions. Also, nuclear reactors do not emit any of the six air pollutants identified in the Clean Air Act: ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide or lead. In our current environment, we are focused on reducing carbon emissions, and this makes nuclear energy an extremely important part of the power generation mix for fighting pollution.  

The above post by Structural Integrity Associates is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

For more on this promotion, follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 


Popular posts from this blog

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.


The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…