Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nuclear Training and Questions about the Future

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee Workers: The Question 

On my latest post, a comment posed a very important question about training at nuclear plants. Specifically, the comment raised questions about the future for people at Vermont Yankee.

Here's a quote from that comment:

Everyone even me is saddened about the loss of VY and that it is impossible to restart a shut down nuclear plant. One reason is because to keep the license, all the operators have to have continuous training. Why couldn't operators train at another reactor of the same brand? If the NRC won't allow that, why doesn't the industry try to change that? Entergy, for example, must have another GE reactor of theirs....Also, I read that a license is plant specific. Why is that? Why can it not go by maybe brand? That is like you get a drivers license but you can only drive 1 car. Again, why did the industry let that happen? Why is your industry taking this closures "lying down"? 

My Partial Answer: About Simulators

These are good questions.  Though I don't work at a nuclear plant, I made an attempt to answer the question as below:

Indian Point

There's an old saying that France has one variety of nuclear plant and 100 varieties of cheese, while America has one variety of cheese and 100 varieties of nuclear plants. That is the main problem. 

Even "sister" reactors are not totally alike. Though being a qualified operator on one reactor definitely gives you a leg up on being qualified on a similar reactor, you still have to go through a lot of training for that second reactor.

I was at EPRI during part of the ten years just after TMI. At that time, reactor training went from "generic" to very plant-specific simulators. This was a Good Thing for training and safety. 

That said, airplane pilots face this problem of the "new plant" all the time. (For a while, my husband worked at a company that did software for airplane simulators.) Anyhow, for a pilot qualified on a 727, after a certain number of hours in the simulator for a 737--that pilot can get into the cockpit of a 737, with passengers in the plane behind him.

It would be good if the nuclear industry had something similar. People get too locked into their jobs IMHO. Maybe the nuclear industry does have I say, I don't work in a plant and I am not an expert on nuclear simulator training. 

However, you make a good point that such operator flexibility would be good for the industry.

I encourage people who work at nuclear plants to enter this conversation.

SROs and Others

I know people (such as Howard Shaffer) who held responsible positions at more than one
Duane Arnold
nuclear plant.  I don't know how easy or hard it is to do this.  I would think a plant chemist would need almost no re-training, but an SRO might need months or years of training to qualify at a new plant.  But I really don't know.

I hope knowledgeable people will comment on this post.

Also, if as a nuclear worker, you moved between plants in the past, it would be great if you could comment on this post.

Thank you.


Robert said...

Wow! I didn't know I was such a hit!

Meredith Angwin said...


You asked a very good question. An important question.

I have had no answers on the blog as yet, but I did get a private email. This person said that the number of people being laid off from nuclear plants might be more of a problem in the job search than the time of retraining for a new plant. In other words, he thought the root problem was too many workers chasing too few jobs.

mike e said...

Some parts of operating are genric and others are not but what is proposed here would have to be approved by the NRC but making the proposal costs money in and of itself because the NRC will never guarantee an answer or outcome. Look at Yankee Rowe shutdown there was a fix that would have kept plant open (annealing the vessel) but NRC would not pre-approve the process and the company could not afford the gamble. To keep VY trained personnel you have to get it all pre-approved, and you would have to perform all the hundreds of Preventative Maintenance tasks to keep the plant ready to run, no small task and do it with no income stream. Not even mentioning that the minute the plan was proposed the antis would come screaming out of the wood work with intervener status to attempt to block it. Can you imagine running any other business this way not gonna happen.

Nuke Roadie said...

I'm no RO but as a maintenance tech what I have seen is most plants are basically the same but with different layouts. My biggest contention is with the huge differences between procedures at different plants. I have always said these should be more standardized for the travelers. I have over 300 quals that mean nothing at a new plant. No one recognizes quals from even sister plants. I assume its a liability issue, if I mess up then the plant that qualed me is responsible. I still say a reactor is a reactor and the transition should not be that intense or difficult.

Robert said...

Mike, what I wonder is isn't the NRC mostly people who are in the nuclear industry and have engineering and scientific background? Its kind of like the head of the FDA would have to be a doctor or a scientist or people in the FAA would have to know about aviation. But what I have a problem with is that the blogs I read say that a restart is impossible, which to one on the outside doesn't sound right. I mean, a closed school was reopened in my area and they were able to get teachers right away.

Nuke Roadie, I think you are right. After all, not all McDonalds restaurants are exactly the same but if you worked at one I sure you can work at another. So why can McD do that and the nuclear industry cannot?

Meredith, I am sorry about what I said but how many other people saw that article and felt the same way?

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you for your comments.

Just about the part of the question addressed to me.

Robert, your main question was great!

And I know you didn't mean badly with the comments that I didn't include. Having been interviewed myself, I know it is say stuff, but how it comes out in the article, what they choose to print..who knows?

I think it was great to see an interview with a pro-nuclear person. The newspapers are full of mostly opponent interviews. You know, opponent after opponent saying:" I am SO scared!" I like to encourage pro-nuclear people to speak out, even if the reporter won't always choose the perfect quotes.