Annual national celebration places focus on nuclear science, careers and education

NSW-logoLast week, Duke Energy hosted a series of local events in communities around the company’s six nuclear plants. More than 125 nuclear professionals across the company’s nuclear fleet met with hundreds of students to give them a lesson on nuclear power as part of National Nuclear Science Week – a national, broadly observed week-long celebration to focus local, regional and national interests on all aspects of nuclear science.

Teammates flocked to local schools while others welcomed homeschoolers to their site’s energy education centers, where outreach efforts ranged from interactive presentations and hands-on activities. Several of the events were orchestrated by the site’s North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) and Women in Nuclear (WIN) groups.

Curious to know what went on during National Nuclear Science Week? Below are some key outreach efforts held during the week-long celebration:

  • Brunswick Nuclear Plant:Brunswick’s nuclear teammates hit the ground running last week by hosting a National Nuclear Science Week fair at six local schools. Nearly 85 volunteers met with more than 2,000 students to help spark awareness about nuclear science. Students were able to spend about 30 minutes visiting different stations including a robotics demonstration, learning about the anatomy of an atom and participating in a “nuclear dance” as a way of learning how a boiling water reactor works.
  • McGuire Nuclear Station: 80 Boy Scouts visited the EnergyExplorium, McGuire’s education center, to earn their nuclear science merit badge. Scouts were able to see and touch models of a turbine, generator and fuel assembly as they learned about nuclear power.A nuclear science day was also planned for nearly 125 homeschool students. Members of Duke Energy’s NA-YGN partnered with the American Nuclear Society and led a presentation focusing on nuclear power; a participated on a career panel answering questions about their background, skills and education. Students also participated in hands-on, interactive activities including a demonstration on radioactive half-life using M&Ms.
  • Harris Nuclear Plant:Students from a local college were led on a site driving tour, while a group of realtors participated in a lunch and learn at the site’s energy education center hosted by WIN. A member of Harris’ WIN group also visited a local school and met with middle schools science teachers and female students to lead a nuclear science program.
  • Catawba Nuclear Station: The site welcomed nearly 100 members of the homeschool community for a nuclear science day. Students participated in five sessions during the event, including a nuclear dress out activity. Families also learned about half-life and radiation decay, the various types of careers at a nuclear plant, how the plant makes electricity and participated in nuclear trivia. 24 volunteers from Catawba helped to make the event a huge success.
  • Robinson Nuclear Station: Robinson teammates gave 12 presentations to five local schools. Approximately 607 students were able to learn more about nuclear energy, nuclear careers and the success paths Robinson employees took to get where they are now.
  • Oconee Nuclear Station: Teammates from Oconee participated in the “Bite of Science” at Clemson University, a workshop designed to improve teacher’s ability to provide students a context of how science is applied in the real world and inspire students to pursue careers of excellence and leadership in STEM. The World of Energy, Oconee’s energy education center, offered a tour of the site’s control room simulator to 55 students from Furman University, hosted a homeschool day and delivered six presentations to local high school and elementary school students.

Duke Energy places a year-round focus on education at all of its nuclear plants across North and South Carolina. The company reaches thousands of students and teachers each year through an extensive public education and community outreach program.

Catawba Nuclear Station: Through a different lens


Morning comes to Catawba Nuclear Station, located in York County, S. C. on Lake Wylie. The two units at Catawba generate approximately 2,258 megawatts of electricity—enough electricity to power approximately one million homes—making it the second-largest operating nuclear plant in Duke Energy’s fleet.


Each of the two units at Catawba has two emergency diesel generators that can provide power to the station in an emergency. One generator can provide more than enough power to safely shut down the unit.



Catawba Nuclear Station has six cooling towers, three for each unit. What you see rising from the towers is actually water vapor, or steam.


Stairs leading to the top of the cooling towers. Each ascending circular level of the cooling tower cantilevers slightly over the level below (looking similar to an upside down lamp shade).


The cooling towers are huge circular concrete structures, seven stories high, and 270 feet in diameter (almost one football field) with thirteen huge (28 feet) fans on the top deck. Each tower circulates about 210,000 gallons of water per minute.


The switchyard—where power from the nuclear station first stops on the way to  customers.


The whole process of making electricity is monitored in the control room where is a team of operators licensed by the federal government makes sure our plant operates safely and efficiently. To maintain their licenses, operators must complete requalification training and examination programs — spending one week of every five weeks in required training for the duration of their careers. Additionally, they must pass exams to be certified physically and mentally fit to be an operator.

A Reactor Trip: An Important Nuclear Safeguard

EBR-I. Photo courtesy of WikipediaThe priority for every nuclear power plant is the safe, reliable operation of the plant. The industry’s commitment to this principle is absolute – a cornerstone of the nuclear safety culture is “conservative decision making.” What this mean is if there is ever any threat to the safe, reliable operation of a plant, no matter how remote or unlikely, the decision is always to take the most cautious course of action, which may be to immediately shut down the plant.

The automatic or manual shutdown of the plant is referred to as a “trip” or “scram.” The shutdown occurs when the reactor is shutdown by rapidly inserting control rods into the fuel core to instantaneously stop the fission chain reaction. Trips can occur either automatically or manually when certain predetermined parameters indicate the plant is not operating as expected.  The parameter values, often referred to as trip points, are selected with enough margin to ensure safety and protect plant equipment. The concept is much like a circuit breaker in your home.  The circuit breaker will trip when a predetermined level is reached so the design limits of things like wiring, receptacles and other devices are not exceeded.

Control rods are designed to insert into the core to stop the fission process in less than two seconds.  The time required to return the power plant to service is determined by the time required to assess and correct the cause of the trip limit being exceeded.  A normal time to recover from a minor problem would be roughly 48 – 96 hours.

Plant trips and the startups are practiced regularly in every nuclear plant’s training organization. Exact replicas of plant control rooms are used to simulate different scenarios that could lead to a trip. It’s an approach and environment that’s very similar to an airline flight simulator.  In the event of a plant trip, any improvement opportunities and best practices are captured during post-trip reviews.  These reviews of operator and equipment performance are evaluated for inclusion in future simulator training and also shared with the nuclear industry.Control room scram button. Photo courtesy of Wkipedia Nuclear plants are operated with multiple redundant safety barriers in place to protect public safety. Operators work to avoid trips by constantly monitoring, assessing and correcting any negative trends in plant performance. Trips are an excellent safeguard that ensure the continued safe operation of nuclear plants.