From nuclear navy to Robinson Nuclear Plant

Meet Laura Basta, site vice president in Duke Energy's nuclear fleet

To learn more about the leaders who make up Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet, we sat down with Laura Basta, Robinson Nuclear Plant’s site vice president. Laura took on her role in 2023. Her overall responsibilities include directing station management, operations, maintenance, chemistry and radiation protection, engineering, and safety. Since joining the company in 2007, she has held various leadership positions in operations, training and maintenance.  

How did you come to work at Duke Energy?  

Prior to coming to Duke Energy, I was in the nuclear Navy. My last duty station was in Charleston, South Carolina, as a shift engineer on moored training ships, which the Navy uses to train all their new operators. I knew I was getting out of the Navy and started to apply for positions in the commercial sector. I interviewed at what was then Progress Energy for a streamlined training opportunity to be a senior reactor operator. Having just spent the last couple of years in Charleston, I knew I liked the southeast area, but what really got me to come to Duke Energy as opposed to other companies were the positive comments from employees about the plant and the workforce. That sold me on Robinson Nuclear Plant and the company. 

Were you always interested in a STEM1 career?  

I knew coming out of high school that I wanted to join the Navy, and my intention was to fly. I went to flight school after I graduated from college and was commissioned into the Navy. I apparently get terrible air sickness, so it became evident that a career in naval aviation was not going to be a good choice for me! I ended up going to the surface fleet, and I found that nuclear power was incredibly attractive. You learn a lot of special skills, and that's how I ended up really getting into nuclear power operations. My major was in applied physics, so I always had that interest in STEM. However, I hadn't really thought anything about nuclear until flight school didn't work out. I really enjoyed being in the Navy, especially interacting with the people in the nuclear field, who are exceptionally bright and very professional. I assumed, which turned out to be correct, that the people in the commercial nuclear sector were just as bright, professional, and good to work with. 

What do you see as some of the important aspects that propelled your career forward?  

The most important aspect that propelled me forward in my career was that I tried to work hard. If you're someone who aspires to leadership positions, I believe a leader must work harder than anybody else. They take on the toughest and sometimes most unpleasant jobs. The other important piece is to recognize that I don't know everything and to have the humility and the willingness to ask people with more expertise for help. I might not know everything at the outset, but I'm always willing to learn. Along those lines, it’s important to have a drive for continuous learning and recognize that you can never be satisfied. The minute you think that you've arrived and there's nothing else to learn, you're probably starting down a slippery slope. 

How would you describe your leadership style? 

I'm a big believer in the principle of ownership for leaders. Owning the mistakes that happen allows me to come up with solutions. As soon as I start blaming something or someone else, I'm relinquishing control of a solution. Instead, I ask myself, “How could I have influenced that outcome differently?” I'm then able to come up with a solution to fix whatever the problem is, which is important from a leadership perspective.  

What is a normal workday for you? 

Every day is different, but I try to think about just two things every day. Ultimately, I recognize that my job is to ensure that Robinson Nuclear Plant is successful and is positioned with the right people, knowledge, skills and attitude to ensure that the plant can reliably operate all the way to 2050. That's how I approach my normal day. It’s a balance between what needs to be done today to ensure we’re successful for the next 24 hours but also for the long term. What happens today can set us up for success 12 months down the line, 24 months down the line, five years, or 20 years to ensure that we can accomplish that mission. My day is making sure that we're taking care of our people so that we've got the right folks to operate and maintain the plant and that we're making the right decisions from a plant reliability standpoint. So it is a balance between focus on today while planning for the future. 

Why is your work important?  

I recognize how important our work is every day I drive to work and come home. I see people's lights on in their houses as I pass by. Our work really is important because we do deliver such an essential product to our communities. It's a big deal and very noticeable when the power is out. It’s impactful not only to people’s comforts, but it’s even more impactful on the things that we truly need from a survival perspective. 

Do you see yourself as a trailblazer?  

I see myself as a positive example and role model to women and underrepresented groups that you can do this! You can do it in a way in which you can still be authentic to yourself. I’ve never felt that I’ve had to change my personality or core values to be able to fit in. In this role and in this environment, those things were welcome characteristics.  

How do you deal with setbacks? 

Setbacks and disappointments happen all the time. They're just part of life, both at work and at home. My approach is to take ownership of those things and look at how I could have influenced the situation differently or what actions could have resulted in a different outcome. That perspective gives me a lot of control to fix the problem. I'm not dependent on some other circumstance or fate or luck to resolve an issue. When you look for it, there's typically something good that is going to come out of any kind of disappointment. 

That's how we grow and learn. 

What general advice would you offer for someone in their career? 

My advice would be to own your career growth. That can mean seeking out the toughest assignments and being willing to work hard. Be proactive and take the initiative and don’t wait for things to come along. There are a lot of things you can do to positively influence the trajectory of your career. When people are humble and have a willingness to learn, I think they are more open to hear advice from other people and incorporate it into their own career. It all comes down to personal initiative. If you are willing to do the things that other people aren't willing to do and those tough assignments, then you can get on the other side and get to the assignments or the jobs that you would enjoy more.  

What makes someone a good fit for working in the nuclear industry?  

What makes a person a good fit for nuclear is if they have a high level of ownership and professionalism. We have to all recognize that what we do here is important and exacting work. That’s why it requires a level of skill and dedication that's a little bit different than other industries. As a result, you get to work around great people with a similar mindset. I think what really attracts people to the nuclear industry is the importance of the work we do and the very bright and professional people you get to work with. If that describes you, then this would be a good career field! 

What is the one thing you wish people better understood about nuclear energy?  

I wish folks knew how incredibly reliable the technology is. Our capacity factors are typically up around 98%, which is incredible if you look at other sources of generation. We're always here – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and we operate that way for 18-24 months with remarkably little fuel and on little acreage. I wish people had a better appreciation for how nuclear plants in general are just so compact and efficient. 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Learn more about careers in STEM in this article: 

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