Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Joining the Nuclear Workforce at Palo Verde

NEI's John Keeley
In January 2014 NEI made a remarkable investment in my professional development, shipping me out to Arizona for a month so that I could take Plant Systems Training offered by the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Plant Systems, an intensive four-week overview of operations at a pressurized water reactor facility, and a training unique to Palo Verde, is required training for virtually every employee at the site, but its utility and applicability is recognized widely across the industry. I remember studying very hard, passing all of my exams, and at the end of four weeks hugging a lot of new friends I'd made in the class and on the site.

At the end of 2014 I told my boss that I didn't want to allow my learnings to atrophy back at my desk in Washington, and suggested to him that I work an outage in 2015. What better place to be embedded in an outage workforce than among my classmates back out at Palo Verde?

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, located about 55 miles west of downtown Phoenix, has been the largest power producer of any kind in the United States since 1992. Its three units are capable of generating more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

Because of its desert location, Palo Verde is the only nuclear plant in the United States that does not sit on a large body of water. Instead, it uses treated effluent from several area municipalities to meet its cooling water needs, recycling approximately 20 billion gallons of waste water each year.

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station
Over the course of the next two weeks I'll be sending back to D.C. accounts of my outage experience. I'll be acquiring and sharing still and video imagery, blogging here, and tweeting from NEI's media team handle using the #PaloVerdePower hash tag. My aim is to bring a bit of an insider's view to the remarkable work that takes place over the course of about 30 days during an outage. That work is paramount to ensuring the safe and reliably electricity generated from America's 99 commercial nuclear power reactors.

Yesterday I completed two hours of Initial Qualifications Training just to gain access to the non-protected areas of Palo Verde. That online training is an exhaustive tour of the nuclear industry's safety culture.  

I'll spend the first week of my outage duty embedded with a Refueling and Maintenance Services team. I'm especially excited to be reunited with one of my Plants Systems classmates, Master Craftsman Erik Rose. Inside and outside of my Plants System classroom Erik was very much a tutor to me; beginning this week he'll be my outage supervisor.

I'll attend a radiation workers safety briefing, gaining an understanding of the dose field inside containment. I'll observe the operation of a polar crane, which performs the heaviest lifts on a nuclear plant site. I'll assist a Turbine Support group before the end of my first week. I'll participate in turnover meetings and follow a given's day's accomplishments relative to the outage schedule forecast. And I'm most excited to observe a core offload and fuel move, from the refueling bridge in Unit 2. Not a whole lot of people ever get to do that.

It's going to be a fabulous exercise of my recent training, but I'm just as excited to spend a couple of weeks alongside the men and women whose dedication to their crafts and commitment to safety make the U.S. commercial nuclear fleet the standard bearers for reliable and safe electricity generation.

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