Thursday, January 30, 2014

Friendships and Lasting Lessons from Training at Palo Verde

The following post was submitted by John Keeley, NEI's Senior Manager of Media Relations. We posted a video featuring John back on January 10 when he was about to begin a training course at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station on nuclear power plant systems. John completed the course this week and submitted this summary.

Against all odds – and certainly counter to any wagers my science instructors from my formal education would have made – I passed Palo Verde’s Plant Systems course this month. Michael Sexton and I shot another video about my odyssey, titled ‘Miracle in the Desert,’ and in it I attempt to articulate how powerfully meaningful success in the course is to me. I’m returning to NEI next week, Plant Systems diploma proudly in hand, and some time Monday morning I hope to walk into the office of my CEO, Marv Fertel, and thank him for making so significant an investment in my professional development.

NEI's John Keeley
Scott Bell, who led our instruction, is a very special spirit in the Training Center. His is a caliber of classroom I’d never experienced. It’s dynamic, interactive, and fabulously collegial. Perhaps best of all, learning in it is fun. Bell is a subject matter expert across a wide spectrum of plant operations here, but just as importantly, he wants his students to succeed and he wants his graduates to make Palo Verde a safer site. He worked us hard for four weeks, he made us master an exhaustive and exhausting breadth of material, but along the way he also regularly made us laugh, which I believe aided our learning. I learned a lot I think about learning from Bell.

One evening I shared a walk to the main parking lot with a site engineer who in the course of discussing Palo Verde’s history with me likened the site to Rocky Balboa, from the Rocky movies. And it’s true, not all that long ago Palo Verde was on the canvas with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Today however Palo Verde is in fine fighting spirit, and triumphant; it isn’t merely one of the finest operating generation facilities in our fleet but one of the best in the world. Now the hard part: you’ve got to maintain that operational excellence.

I needed only a few weeks here to realize that this is a special place. Scott Bell wants his students to appreciate how special and unique our technology is, but I want you to know how special what you do every day is. We in this industry make electricity safely and efficiently every day, but we also do so with a distinctive environmental stewardship. We power millions of homes and businesses without emitting carbon and other atmospheric pollutants. You don’t have to possess outsized environmental sensibilities to work in nuclear, but if you care about the quality of air we breathe ours is a wonderful industry to call home. This is a central message in the wonderful documentary ‘Pandora’s Promise.’ Watch it if you haven’t already and remember again how special you are.

A few words about the very warm welcome I was accorded here. A month is a long time to be away from home, but I made so many new friends here this month that I think of Palo Verde as a home away from home. A group of security officers and facilities managers invited me to join their Monday golf outings. A classmate wondered when next I’d return so I could use his cabin up near Sedona. I truly believe the Starbucks study group I was welcomed into ensured my passing Plant Systems. Special and lasting bonds, Bell informed us, are forged in his classroom. He’s right, but I also forged some just about everywhere I walked on site.
Palo Verde from Wintersburg Road
In my final days here Palo Verde personnel often asked me what I would miss most about spending January in the Arizona desert, figuring I’d identify the wondrous weather. This is a terrific outpost most particularly when Old Man Winter is putting a serious hurting on much of the Midwest and East Coast. But what I will actually miss most might surprise you. By my third day at Palo Verde I was badged for access, and by the end of my first week I found my pride swelling while driving down Wintersburg Road in pre-dawn darkness, in what I quickly came to associate as the parade of the dedicated. I really liked being badged in that big parade, feeling a part of this special team. I will miss that a lot starting Monday morning.          

1 comment:

Mark Fallon said...

It has been a pleasure having John at Palo Verde this month, and by all accounts he has been an engaged nuclear professional during the four-week systems training class -- his exam results certainly support this observation. I know that his improved knowledge of nuclear plant systems and operations will serve him well as a representative of our industry. I also know that the nuclear professionals at Palo Verde will miss him and will welcome him back when he returns to the nation's largest power producer at some point in the future.

Mark Fallon
Director, Palo Verde Communications