Practice Makes Perfect: Nuclear Emergency Preparedness

Duke Energy always expects its nuclear site to operate safely, it’s the number one priority — and because of that priority, each site drills and practices multiple times a year to prepare for the unlikely event of a nuclear station emergency.  These drills and practices are part of an emergency preparedness plan, which is a collaborative effort between Duke Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission state and local government and emergency response officials — including fire departments, hospitals, law enforcement, and local schools — as well as several hundred employees. The partnerships with these agencies are continuously developed during drills and exercises. Each nuclear site has at least five drills a year and graded exercises every other year.

Duke Energy employees, local and state officials work in one of many emergency response facilities during a drill.

Duke Energy employees, local and state officials work in one of many emergency response facilities during a drill.

The exercises not only test Duke Energy’s ability to appropriately respond to an emergency event, but also the coordination of the state and county agencies. Regular exercises ensure that in the unlikely event of an emergency at a nuclear power plant, information would flow freely between Duke Energy, the state and the counties; plant personnel would follow procedures to safely shut down the affected units; and the public would receive the appropriate information to ensure their safety.

Exercises are preceded by months of detailed planning between Duke Energy, the state and the counties. Duke Energy and partner offsite agencies sit on a task force to work out the details of the emergency preparedness plan, and the plan is regularly updated based on changes to area population, infrastructure and industry operating experience.

In the unlikely event of an emergency, Duke Energy would make recommendations to the state and county, but the counties and state have responsibility for the sounding of sirens, evacuations and public recommendations.

Neighbors living within the 10-mile emergency planning zone (EPZ) around nuclear stations receive an emergency planning calendar every year, which contains valuable information, such as reception centers and important contact information. Duke Energy also provides emergency information to hotels, schools and on our Nuclear Emergency Preparedness website.

Meteorologists essential to utilities

When you hear the word “meteorologist,” an image of your local TV weatherman may come to mind.

But, being a meteorologist does not always mean being prepared for the 5 o’clock weather report.

As a utility, Duke Energy staffs a meteorology team to support a variety of weather-related needs, including forecasting for daily generation, demand and dispatch support, storm alerts, emergency preparedness and more.

“We provide weather forecasting for the Carolinas, the Midwest and Florida – our models provide outlook for the generation output each day,” Duke Energy Director of Meteorology Nick Keener said. “Forecasting allows the company to optimize its generation portfolio … we start work very early in the morning to provide weather input into the daily load forecast model.”


Duke Energy staffs a meteorology team to support a variety of weather-related needs, including forecasting for daily generation, demand and dispatch support, storm alerts, emergency preparedness and more.

Of course, meteorologists play an important role in forecasting severe weather and providing resources when a major storm strikes. Not only does the meteorology team support generation facilities during severe weather, but they also provide critical coverage for dispatch when dealing with major weather-related outages.

“We predict weather impacts to our service areas, which include prediction of resource needs, as well as supporting emergency planning across the enterprise during large storm events,” Keener said. “During large storm events, the team can provide continuous coverage to emergency planning organizations.”

Keener also said his team provides rain forecasts for drainage basins that support Duke’s hydro operations – that includes creating forecasts that show how rainfall and drought affect operations and impact to shorelines.

Marsha Kinley, a lead meteorologist for Duke Energy, is responsible for weather-related services for the company’s nuclear fleet.

Kinley is responsible for coordinating with each station’s Operations group when severe weather is possible. Real time weather data is directly tied into the Operations control room at each nuclear facility, where operators can see exactly what is going on outside.

In addition, Kinley also provides expertise for onsite flooding issues. Currently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is working with the nuclear industry to prepare for onsite flood potential (in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan). Kinley provides modeling to determine how much precipitation could likely fall on site.

Also, Each Duke Energy nuclear site has a meteorological tower that detects wind speed and direction, precipitation and dew points, Kinley said. Part of Duke Energy’s job is to detect air quality to ensure that the plant is operating safely in its community. An environmental team provides daily review, checks instrumentation and works with the engineering groups on issues.

There are a lot of interesting careers working for a utility – being a part of the meteorology team is certainly one of them.

Vets Provide Backbone to Nuclear Power Industry

Duke Energy has a long history of employing veterans of the United States Armed Forces across its enterprise. It is Duke’s longstanding belief that the knowledge and skills gained in the military translate well to a rewarding career in the electric utility industry. Veterans know how to evaluate risk, work as part of a team, overcome obstacles and solve problems. Duke Energy values these qualities in its workforce. Nowhere is this more true than in Duke’s nuclear fleet, where U.S. military personnel and veterans fill engineering, technician, operator and security positions.

“U.S. military veterans are, and will continue to be, vital to our nuclear workforce,” said Duke Energy’s Chief Nuclear Officer Bill Pitesa. “Across our fleet, former sailors, airmen, soldiers, marines and guardsmen and women are integral to the safe and efficient operation of our nuclear facilities.”

Nuclear Navy

The nuclear industry is especially interested in graduates of the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion program since the fundamentals and components education graduates receive is directly applicable to careers at nuclear power plants. With the shortage of skilled workers in nuclear energy, and the impending retirement of a significant number of workers, this pipeline is of vital importance to the industry.

aschoolnewStudents at the U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Training Command “A” School receive fundamental rate training for future nuclear Machinist’s Mates, Electrician’s mates and Electronic Technicians. Many of the skills learned here are useful as sailors transition out of the Navy into civilian employment.

So important, in fact, that the civilian nuclear industry and U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion program signed an agreement in 2012 establishing the first systematic program that allows personnel separating from the Navy to seamlessly transition to civilian employment. The agreement of understanding is the first, formal partnership between the Navy and the nuclear energy industry, including Duke Energy, designed to put veterans to work in the growing domestic nuclear energy field.

“The nuclear industry expects to hire about 25,000 more workers over the next few years, and this agreement allows us to bring in experienced, highly skilled people who deserve rewarding civilian careers after selfless service to their country,” said Tony Pietrangelo, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer in a news release.

Nuclear Security

The nuclear energy industry is one of the few industries with a security program that is regulated by the federal government. Security officers must be highly trained and well-armed to meet the standards set forth for nuclear power plants. Military veterans meet these criteria and therefore are highly sought after to man the security teams in nuclear.

“We look for a certain skill set and aptitude when we hire nuclear security officers,” said Harris Nuclear Plant’s Director of Nuclear Security Linwood Faulk. “What I have found is that veterans bring those skills to the table and it flattens the learning curve when we hire new people.”

The Future

Due to ongoing expansion, the nuclear energy industry is a job-creating engine. The industry is hiring thousands of well-paid workers to build new reactors—and up to 700 permanent staff to operate each site for the long term. Due to expected retirements the industry plans to hire as many as 20,000 highly skilled workers by 2018 to operate, maintain and secure existing reactors. Duke Energy is committed to filling those vacancies with highly-trained veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Over the coming months, look for profiles in this space on the military veterans who help make Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet one of the best in country.