Nuclear Professionals Giving Back

DSCN6607Nuclear Professionals Giving Back
Cecil Rhodes and the Maritime Museum

With about 28,000 employees scattered from the Carolinas to Florida and Indiana, and operations spanning 150 years, if you live in or near Duke Energy’s service areas chances are you know someone who works for the company or who did at some point. Indeed, retirees from Duke Energy, in all its manifestations, are a small army in their own right. These dedicated professionals built and operated some of the first commercial nuclear plants in North and South Carolina, dedicated their lives to running highly valued plants and are a gift to their communities. Known for their strong work ethic, commitment to community and skills in managing projects, Duke Energy retirees are just another reason that places like Southport, N. C. are some of the happiest places to live and work.

Case in point: Cecil Rhodes

Rhodes joined the team at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant (a two-unit Boiling Water Reactor) in 1978 and in the 27 years that followed held several roles including “station nuclear engineer,” which he particularly enjoyed. Says Rhodes,

The role of “station nuclear engineer” (better known as “the nuc”) though intense was very rewarding, especially when changing reactor power. Managing a reactor core during power maneuvers, though not a game, is similar to playing 3-D chess, except a fourth dimension (time) is added. A change to one local area of the reactor core can significantly affect another area, at a different level, and at the same and/or future time. It was very rewarding to address all variables and successfully complete a maneuver. Today there are better tools to predict core response, but originally it was the nuc’s knowledge that enabled reactor core power maneuvers within the limits prescribed by plant technical specifications.

Like many of his colleagues, Rhodes also had a passion for fishing, boating and diving in the waters along the North Carolina coast. He joined the efforts to improve the local Maritime Museum in 1992, and after he retired, he was able to devote more time to the small museum. Since then, Rhodes has worked with the museum through two relocations and is wrapping up a major fundraising project to further expand and improve on the museum’s current building.

Walking through the museum takes one through the history of early exploration and settlement, pirates and the wars that ravaged the coastline. Exhibits include finds from sunken ships, information about early life in the Cape Fear region and the museum’s very own periscope. As described by the museum, it strives to tell “the story of the Cape Fear region’s people and their relationship to the water… a tale of tides, wind and ocean.” Having been part of that history for 40 years, it is no wonder that signs of the Brunswick Nuclear Plant are visible at the museum. On one wall in the “library” hangs a map of the Cape Fear river showing the location of the plant and its unique relationship with the waters, which are used to cool the plant and subsequently pumped off shore. The map once hung at the plant’s education center and when the display was upgraded, the map found its way to the Maritime Museum.

When asked why the volunteer work at the museum is important, Rhodes’ answer reflects his commitment to community:

 I have lived the maritime life since childhood, and with it, experienced the region’s change from a fishing/shrimping based economy to one more dependent upon tourism and new residents. I’m very passionate about capturing our nautical culture and accurately portraying nautical life…. The Cape Fear region is rich in history with many interesting characters. It has to be captured, not forgotten. There are so many stories and actions of citizens past and present that make me proud to be a part of the area and I want to share it with others. Another reason the museum is important to me is having realized the importance it plays in the local economy…. The museum has become a significant “destination” with a clientele ranging from day trippers to world travelers.

This is no exaggeration. Reading through the list of visitors to Southport’s Maritime Museum, you can’t help notice the variety. Certainly there are local visitors, but also global. One page had entries from South Korea and Ukraine. That sort of draw didn’t happen by accident. For years, volunteers have worked to develop and preserve the maritime heritage of the lower Cape Fear region and give it a home amongst this modest collection of stories and artifacts.

On the third Tuesday each month you can find Rhodes at a local restaurant known as the Dead End Saloon where an informal gathering of retired nuclear workers congregates. Although many are retired for over a decade, it comes as no surprise that they meet regularly, with a standing meeting agenda, and are committed to looking after one another just as they always have. Visit with a few of these people and you cannot help notice those unique cultural traits of nuclear professionals.

Inside “NCIS: Los Angeles”: Nuclear myths and truths

If you watched the Jan. 4 episode of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” you got an inside look at a decommissioned nuclear energy facility. Well, sort of. The team investigates the radiation poisoning of a sergeant moonlighting as a security officer at a fictional decommissioned nuclear plant. And, while the popular CBS show accurately portrayed many details about nuclear energy, it took a few liberties to further its storyline. Here’s the truth about some of the nuclear myths spotted in this season’s 21st episode.

Working at a nuclear energy facility is safe and rewarding. Many scenes in this episode portray the fictional Santa Flora Nuclear Plant as a hazardous work environment with less than enthusiastic employees. For example, Callen suggests the security officer lied to his wife about the fact he was working at a decommissioned nuclear plant so she wouldn’t worry. Additionally, Hanna requests fast food rather than eating at the plant’s cafeteria saying “I prefer food that doesn’t glow in the dark.”

Duke Energy employee at Catawba Nuclear Station

Duke Energy employee at Catawba Nuclear Station

While these details may make the plot more interesting, the truth is, nuclear plants are among the safest and most secure industrial facilities in the United States. Cafeteria food at nuclear sites does not glow in the dark and radiation is limited to specific areas of a nuclear site only accessed by highly trained workers.

In addition, nuclear energy facilities support local economies by offering a variety of interesting careers with competitive salaries. In fact, nuclear is the largest job creator of any power source. Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet alone employs nearly 7,000 people in the Carolinas.

Decommissioned nuclear plants are actively monitored. The episode plays off the common misconception that safety and security is relaxed at decommissioned nuclear plants. Disgruntled employee, Dr. Leo Chadmont, explains his concerns about the fictional plant’s problems to Callen and Hanna: “We’re decommissioned, which means the water chemistry is never checked, tubes can rust, safety and contingency plans have been relaxed, cooling and back-up systems are never tested.”

Duke Energy's Crystal River Nuclear Plant

Duke Energy’s Crystal River Nuclear Plant

Chadmont’s depiction of the decommissioned plant, however, could not be further from the truth. Take, for example, Duke Energy’s Crystal River Nuclear Plant (CR3), which announced its retirement in 2013. Safety remains the plant’s top priority and CR3’s comprehensive emergency plans and around-the-clock security force remain in place. Radiological and environmental monitoring programs also continue during the entire decommissioning process.

Nuclear power plants responsibly manage used fuel. The climax of the show hinges around an explosion that threatens to drain water out of the plant’s used fuel pool, thus causing the fuel rods to melt. The lack of security and convenient access to the used fuel pools create a dramatic scenario found only on television.

In reality, not only does substantial security limit access to used fuel pools, but the pools themselves are constructed with several feet of steel-lined, reinforced concrete designed to withstand extreme force. The design and other safety measures would mitigate any effects of the unlikely actions seen in the show.

Although the real everyday operation of nuclear facilities is not dramatic, it’s certainly important. After all, without reliable, 24-7 power, how would you catch the next NCIS episode?

Spreading Holiday Cheer

Duke Energy’s nuclear teammates embraced the holiday spirit this year by taking time to give back to the communities where they live and work. Employees enjoyed partnering with local charities to fulfill the needs and wishes of hundreds of families living near our nuclear energy facilities.

Catawba Nuclear Station employees not only donated more than 160 bikes and toys to local children, but also spent time volunteering at the Toys for Happiness warehouse in Rock Hill, S.C.

Catawba employees donated more than 150 bikes and toys through Toys for Happiness.

Catawba Nuclear Plant employees volunteering at the Toys for Happiness Warehouse in Rock Hill, S.C.

Employees at McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, N.C. donated 200 bikes and hundreds of toys to Toys for Tots. They also collected 90 coats and 100 other winter items for Blythe Elementary and the Lake Norman Christian Mission.

Harris Nuclear Plant workers brightened the holidays of families from Moncure School in Chatham County, N.C. with gifts as part of the plant’s annual Wish Upon a Star initiative. Employees delivered more than $10,000 worth of gifts to families “adopted” by plant employees.

Harris Nuclear Plant teammates deliver gifts to local families.

Harris Nuclear Plant teammates deliver gifts to local families.

Teammates from Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C. gave toys to more than 100 local children through Toys for Tots. Duke Energy will also donate $1,000 to a local charity as part of Oconee’s annual Festival of Trees. Visitors vote for their favorite tree decorated to support local nonprofits, with the winner receiving the donation.

Robinson Nuclear Plant workers provided 150 frozen turkeys to food shelters near Hartsville, S.C. this season. They also donated 30 coats and more than 100 gifts to deserving children.

Robinson Nuclear Plant employees present the Hartsville Soup Kitchen with donated turkeys.

Robinson Nuclear Plant employees present the Hartsville Soup Kitchen with donated turkeys.

Volunteers at Brunswick Nuclear Plant sorted 500 pounds of pecans for a boys and girls home in Southport, N.C.. The home sells these nuts to raise money for programs. Teammates also donated 300 bikes and gifts for more than 150 children.