Nuclear: The Training Never Stops … Really, Never

Nuclear stations need more than uranium and advanced technologies to operate safely and successfully, they also depend upon a skilled, highly trained workforce.

Training is an integral part of the nuclear industry.

However, getting from classroom to control room requires more than a degree. Every person that works at a nuclear facility is carefully screened and rigorously trained in preparation for their challenging career.

For example, someone pursuing a job in Operations, Engineering, Maintenance, Chemistry or Radiation Protection must first undergo a four-to-six-month initial training program before working in the station. Subjects range from thermodynamics to reactor theory and radiochemistry.

Once they complete the initial training program and are on the job, they enter the qualification phase, which can take up to two years. While becoming a fully qualified worker — and for the remainder of their station career — the individual spends 80-200 hours each year in training designed to keep them knowledgeable and well-versed on the latest nuclear information.

All nuclear employees receive regular update training and annual testing, but some groups require further, specialized training.

For instance, employees in Operations, which includes control room operators, are the most heavily trained and are required to attend training every five weeks. They must also pass periodic exams overseen by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Additionally, every nuclear station has an on-site control room simulator, an exact replica of the actual station control room, to further train and test reactor operators on the processes, systems and operation of the plant.

Another example is the Emergency Response Organization (ERO), which includes members from almost every organization at the nuclear facility as well as the corporate office. ERO members go through specialized training and participate in emergency response drills throughout the year to ensure the station is prepared in the event of an emergency.

Then there are security officers, who maintain their high level of readiness through classroom courses, drills and practical exercises.

To streamline these extensive training processes and to offer nuclear classes in a central location, Duke Energy built the Kings Mountain Generation Support Facility in North Carolina. Recently opened in July 2011, this multi-use training and support center will prepare and train a skilled workforce to maintain and modernize the company’s fleet of power plants in the Carolinas.

As you can see, maintaining a knowledgeable work force is central to each station’s operational excellence. The substantial preparation and level of continuous training that goes along with a career in nuclear is unlike any other profession — a nuclear employee’s training never ends.