School’s out, but our education partnerships continue to grow

Even though school is out, the summer months are a great time for nuclear sites to connect with students and educators to build interest and develop positive attitudes and aspirations towards science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The nuclear industry depends on a qualified workforce to safely and reliably operate power plants. However, the nuclear industry is facing a workforce shortage as half of employees are eligible for retirement in the next 10 years and due to the lack of students entering STEM career fields. Establishing strategic partnerships is an important way to provide learning opportunities to ensure well-prepared students and teachers.

EducIMG_1964ational partnerships include programs focused on local schools, universities, summer camps, community organizations and more. These programs provide a valuable experience and may include plant tours, hands-on demonstrations for educators and students, and opportunities to speak with industry professionals.

Duke Energy’s nuclear sites have supported a number of programs this summer season. Harris Nuclear Plant near Raleigh, N.C. hosted an annual workshop for high school science teachers in conjunction with North Carolina State University. Teachers toured the site and learned about plant operations, radiation protection, emergHarrisency preparedness, material failure and analysis, as well as plant security. Rising sixth graders also attended a summer camp focused on energy and energy conservation, and students took part in a hands-on project led by a site engineer.

McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, N.C. established new partnerships with North Carolina New Schools and Discovery Place. Both organizations offer a summer program for STEM educators to learn about career opportunities and how to better inspire students. The educators toured the plant, heard from a panel of speakers and participated in learning activities.

Oconee Nuclear Station in Pickens, S.C. participated in an “Invention Convention” where middle school students learned about nuclear energy and electricity at the site’s exhibit. Oconee is also working with Clemson University on a summer program aimed at introducing girls to careers in 4ResourceRanch04.2014science and technology.

Engineering and chemistry professionals from Robinson Nuclear Plant near Hartsville, S.C. spoke to students at several different summer camps hosted by a regional school specializing in science and math. Brunswick Nuclear Plant near Wilmington, N.C. was recognized by the local school district for its STEM education partnerships and programs including “STEM Speaks” which connects nuclear professionals with students to promote STEM disciplines.

In addition to specific programs, Duke Energy’s energy education centers hosted hundreds of summer camp students and educators.

Education partnerships are a valuable way for the nuclear industry to reach out to educators and engage students. Programs promote an interest in STEM fields, raise awareness about the industry and build goodwill with the community. Most importantly, education partnerships help the nuclear industry develop its future workforce.

New FLEX Regional Center Opens in Arizona

One of three FLEX buildings at McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, NC is almost complete.

One of three FLEX buildings at McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville, NC is almost complete.

As part of the U.S. nuclear industry’s ongoing response to the events at Fukushima in 2011, additional portable equipment is being added to all U.S. nuclear sites.  This portable equipment is being selected based on a diverse and flexible coping strategy (FLEX) which adds was developed for adding more backup systems to cool nuclear reactors and used fuel storage pools and to maintain the integrity of reactor containment structures. The implementation of this strategy requires new facilities and equipment at all U.S. nuclear power plants, as well as the creation of two new regional response centers. These regional centers are being made available to provide a second source of portable equipment for U.S. nuclear sites.  One of these centers recently opened in Phoenix, Arizona; a second facility will open in Memphis, Tennessee in June. Equipment from these regional response centers will be used – in addition to equipment and other measures taken by plant operators – to respond to severe natural events. According to an article in Nuclear Engineering International “Equipment stored at the centres includes portable backup generators, portable high pressure pumps, portable low pressure pumps, diesel fuel transfer pumps, diesel fuel tanks, diesel powered light towers, water treatment, booster pumps, electrical distribution cabinets, cables, and hoses. Each centre houses five full sets of equipment, with four ready to be moved to any U.S. nuclear power plant at all times, and the equipment will undergo regular testing for operability” (May 2014). Equipment from these centers can be delivered within 24 hours via ground and air. Click here to read more about the new regional centers.

A second FLEX building at McGuire Nuclear Station is currently under construction.

A second FLEX building at McGuire Nuclear Station is currently under construction.

In addition to these regional centers, nuclear plant operators have been focused on efforts to provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity and cooling water that will protect critical plant safety systems at all times. Utilities across the country are constructing robust buildings and facilities to protect and house emergency equipment like generators, battery packs, pumps and vehicles that can move this equipment to areas needed in the event of a severe natural event in conjunction with extended loss of AC power to station equipment. While the country’s nuclear plants continue to operate safely, implementing the FLEX strategy will make them safer. Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station currently has three FLEX buildings under construction. The buildings are designed to industry guidance and are very robust; built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and winds up to 240 mph. The foundation of the buildings is nearly two feet in the ground to ensure their stability. All Duke Energy-owned and operated nuclear stations will have new FLEX buildings in the future.

Additional Resources:

NEI – Overview of the nuclear industry’s FLEX approach.

Nuclear Energy Three Years After Fukushima

NEI: FAQ: Nuclear Energy Industry Develops FLEX Strategy to Increase Safety, Address NRC’s Post-Fukushima Recommendations

Bring in the Bots

Refueling Outages Use Robots for Specific Tasks

If SUSI had an online dating profile, it would most likely read, “Likes to swim. Loves to travel. Very flexible. One of a kind.”

Peak your interest?

The submarine robot SUSI swims in the spent fuel pool during Oconee Nuclear Station's recent refueling outage.

The submarine robot SUSI swims in the used fuel pool during Oconee Nuclear Station’s recent refueling outage.

Well, despite SUSI’s curious tagline, she’s hardly got time to create a dating profile. In fact, if she’s not resting, she’s most likely jet-setting around the world or diving through radioactive water.

SUSI, which stands for SU(bmarine) S(ystem) (for) I(nspection), is a one-of-a-kind submarine robot, provided by the German subsidiary of AREVA, that travels around the world assisting nuclear plants during refueling outages and in-service inspections – she is the most flexible submarine tool in the nuclear industry thanks to her wide range of applications for under-water component handling.

Most recently, she assisted Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station during its unit 3 refueling outage. At Oconee, SUSI provides visual inspections of primary components, such as the reactor vessel, pressurizer, steam generator and main coolant lines.

She is also used for foreign object search and retrieval (FOSAR) when things are found where they shouldn’t be.  SUSI is one of many unique robots that aid nuclear plants during refueling and maintenance outages and in-service inspections – Duke Energy uses a diverse fleet of robots for a wide range of jobs.

For instance, the 510 PackBot, used at Robinson Nuclear Plant, is a tracked system with a manipulator arm that can accurately manipulate objects as small as a watch battery – its arm can reach up to seven feet. Equipped with a thermal camera, the 50-pound robot can enter areas where it may be unsafe to send plant personnel, such as inside the containment building during plant operations. Personnel at Robinson Nuclear Plant and McGuire Nuclear Station have used the 710 Warrior robot during outages, as well. The Warrior is a rugged robot capable of carrying up to 200 pounds, and is primarily used to handle radioactive materials, such as filters used to clean water in the reactor vessel.

While these robots can do it all (i.e., swim, lift, crawl – and best of all, they don’t talk back!), robots are especially beneficial in radiological areas to reduce and/or completely eliminate the radiological dose workers receive during specific tasks.

Before bots, personnel handled these specific tasks in specialized protective clothing using poles to manipulate objects. While the manual process is still used when robots aren’t available, it presents a variety of challenges, such as the potential for human error and increased radiological dose. While receiving radiological dose is an expected part of the job for workers trained to work in certain areas, nuclear safety drives the industry to ensure workers receive as little radiological dose as possible.

The 710 Warrior is one of many robots that can take care of specific tasks during nuclear refueling outages.

The 710 Warrior is one of many robots that can take care of specific tasks during nuclear refueling outages.

Technology has made it possible for robots to not only help reduce radiological risk among workers, but they also improve work processes and job efficiency, which directly impact cost savings. When time is critical and the job is risky, robots lend helpful hands in getting the job done.