The nuclear industry is a highly regulated work environment. As such, there is a specialized group of employees who serve as advisors to the entire nuclear fleet. To learn more, we talked to Kevin Ellis, general manager of Nuclear Regulatory Affairs, Policy and Emergency Preparedness.
How did you come to work in Regulatory Affairs?
My background is in engineering. I studied mechanical engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology. After graduating, I worked for the U.S. Navy as a civilian in the reactor services group at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. I worked first in the design engineering group that designed equipment to help take apart and put together reactors on submarines. I transitioned from design to refueling engineering, where I guided people on how to use the equipment we were designing. From there, I worked for a decade with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as a resident inspector at several nuclear facilities in the southeast. I came to Duke Energy in 2016 in Regulatory Affairs.
What attracted you to Regulatory Affairs?
I enjoy working with different groups of people. To be successful, you have to work with many people and many stakeholders. When I was with the NRC, my primary stakeholders were the public. As a resident inspector, you are performing a role for the public at the facility so the nation can generate carbon-free nuclear power. Now my primary stakeholders are our company’s regulators. Likewise, we have to give them confidence in our decision-making and overall operations. In that way, our interests are completely aligned. Our company and our regulator focus on operational safely first and foremost.
What are the different aspects of Regulatory Affairs?
In part, we interface with on-site inspectors, coordinate company support for inspections, manage logistics and address information requests from external regulatory teams coming to a site. There are about 5,000 inspections hours conducted at a nuclear site each year. Our role is to answer questions, locate documents and assist the NRC with completing its inspection program. Additionally, we support the sites with regulatory questions or filings.
We also have a compliance group that ensures any concerns or questions coming from our resident inspectors are thoroughly addressed.
Our licensing team interfaces with the NRC headquarters staff regarding the operating licenses for our plants. For example, when we add a system to one of our plants to enhance safety that may require a modification to the original operating license in a process called a license amendment request (LAR).
Another important function of Regulatory Affairs is emergency preparedness. Just as the name implies, all nuclear plants are required to maintain a robust emergency preparedness program to handle any type of emergency, including pandemics, hurricanes and any type of crisis. This involves close coordination with the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as our state and local county representatives.
What’s on the horizon for Regulatory Affairs?
This is an exciting time to be a part of the energy industry. We are working toward subsequent license renewal of our facilities, power uprates and activities to support fulfilling the company’s mission to provide safe, clean and reliable power to our communities. My team’s role as the regulatory conscience of the nuclear organization is instrumental in achieving those goals.