An unexpected journey: From Daddy’s helper to nuclear mechanic

Rachel Blackman can predict the future. Sort of. Through her work in the mechanical maintenance department, she regularly conducts vibration analysis of equipment. Her analysis is key in looking for changes that might indicate mechanical issues much later in time, such as a bearing defect.

Rachel was one of two maintenance technicians who received this qualification, which required specialized training that was a little intimidating at first.

“The class involved a lot of physics,” Rachel recalled. “I didn’t even take physics in school.”


Rising to meet a new challenge is something she’s done throughout her life. Overcoming physics is just the latest example.

Rachel grew up in Mechanicsville, South Carolina, a small community approximately 30 minutes from where her career would eventually lead her, Duke Energy’s Robinson Nuclear Plant.

As the youngest of three daughters, Rachel saw herself as the son her father never had. Each day, he would come home from work at a local steel mill wearing the long, sturdy overcoat of a welder. Often, he would head out to a shop behind the house to weld and tinker. Rachel followed him there.

“I wanted him to teach me to weld. I knew that I wanted to grow up to be a welder like my daddy,” Rachel remembered. “I always assumed he was a welder from the coat, but I found out he was actually an electrician for his job.”

After graduating high school at 16 years old, Rachel pursued welding at Florence-Darlington Technical College. After earning her welding certificate, she worked for several years as a welder as well as teaching welding. Eventually, Rachel found herself working at the same steel mill as her father. In the shipping department, she learned to operate a crane.

Ready for a change, Rachel heard about a job at Robinson Nuclear Plant from a long-time friend who worked there.

“When the opportunity arose for me to come here, it was a great time for something new and to find a new path in life,” Rachel revealed. “But if you had told me that I would be a nuclear mechanic, I would have laughed at you.”

Through the course of the job interview, each task and responsibility seemed to be just what she was looking for.

“What they described sounded like a challenge, and I thought it sounded like fun,” she said.


That spirit impressed her interview panel. As a result, Rachel began her career as a nuclear mechanic at Robinson Nuclear Plant in August 2011, and she wasn’t laughing.

“It was eye opening. There was so much information, and the processes were totally different from some of my previous jobs,” Rachel remembered.

What impressed her was the overriding focus on safety as much as the work itself.

“That resonated with me. Since I became a mother, I’ve always been very safety-oriented,” she said. “It was clear everyone here will look out for your safety, and you’ve got to do the same for them.”

It’s the strong foundation of teamwork that resonated with her most.

“I’m grateful to have become part of the Robinson family,” she is quick to point out. “Robinson is my work family, and I cherish the people I get to work with.”

She’s become much more than just a nuclear mechanic.

During refueling outages, where large equipment is dismantled and reassembled, you can find Rachel operating several of the large cranes on-site, building on her experience in the shipping department of the steel mill. As a crane operator, she’s earned nearly every applicable qualification.

She’s also been able to be a part of the digital transformation of nuclear maintenance –  transitioning work instructions from the decades long process of printed paper copies to a digital, interactive version on a digital tablet.


Though she wouldn’t have predicted her path from being a little girl following her father into his workshop in Mechanicsville to her career in the nuclear mechanical maintenance shop, she’s grateful she made it to Robinson Nuclear Plant.

“It was a journey from there to here,” she smiled. “It’s one I would take again, but maybe a shorter trip.”

Comments (3)

Posted June 18, 2020 by Paul Wewnt
When Duke began sharing resources during outages, Rachel volunteered to come to Catawba to work with our valve team. As a Job Sponsor, we needed experienced valve technicians to repair valves, not a welder! After her first assignment, I realized Rachel was more than just a welder! She was motivated and eager to learn everything about a valve. We always looked for her name on the list from Robinson and wanted her back for each outage.
Posted June 18, 2020 by Tara
Great story!
Posted June 17, 2020 by John Capps
I met Rachel while working with the Nuclear CFAM organization. Rachel has a great work ethic and a constant positive attitude. The two main keys to success in all endeavors. Best of luck Rachel, Great story.

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