Abbey is a Design Project Engineer for Areva TN and has worked in the nuclear industry for five years. Abby is also the professional development chair of the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN). Follow her on Twitter, @chatteyabbey.
“What do you do?” Like many places, in Washington, D.C., it’s a question that comes up in just about every conversation. “I’m an engineer at a nuclear energy company,” I reply. The most frequent reaction is an “Oh” that varies in intonation and accompanying expression. At times it reflects disinterest, other times, concern, and occasionally genuine interest. The fact of the matter is that I have tremendous passion for what I do. What might that be? I’m happy to share a bit about the what and the why.
What I do
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I love that nearly every day presents a new technical challenge where I get to collaborate with other engineers and work towards a solution. The way our customers are operating their plants is different than when our dry storage systems were first designed. Used nuclear fuel still generates decay heat, even after it is done producing power in a reactor. These days the utilities are using their fuel more efficiently, and as a result, the used nuclear fuel generates more decay heat. AREVA TN has improved our NUHOMS® design to store fuel with more decay heat while maintaining the safety and quality standards demanded by the public, our customers and our regulator. This is achieved through calculation and methodology improvements, better understanding of material properties, and physical design improvements in license amendments or new system designs. It’s in these licensing amendments and new product designs that the design engineers get to exercise their innovation muscles and develop new solutions.
Working in the nuclear industry has been very rewarding, and there are many growth opportunities at AREVA. During the past five years, I have worked on pressurized water reactor (PWR) core design in Lynchburg, VA, boiling water reactor (BWR) core design in Richland, WA, and with the criticality and shielding group in Columbia, MD. These three positions were part of AREVA’s Voyager Program , a rotational program focused on internal mobility and developing engineering talent. Through these roles, I’ve been able to work on the front end of the fuel cycle – analyzing the fuel before it goes into the reactor and during reactor operations – and on the back end of the fuel cycle – where the fuel is used and ready to be removed from the fuel pool and put in dry storage.
Why it matters
It gives me a great sense of pride to be working on developing innovative solutions to support an energy source that provides nearly 20 percent of America’s safe, clean and reliable electricity. The de-carbonization of our energy mix is in progress, but our ability to maintain and improve upon our trajectory depends in large part on the contribution of the 100 nuclear power plants that currently provide nearly two-thirds of our low-carbon energy. I realize that a lot of people have questions and concerns about nuclear waste, even though the waste associated with an average American’s lifetime supply of nuclear energy fits into a container the size of a soda can. While current reactor technology does produce nuclear material that needs to be safely handled and managed (hence, my work in designing robust and secure storage solutions), research and development are underway to design reactors that could run on the used nuclear fuel currently stored in our dry-shielded canisters at nearly 50 percent of U.S. nuclear facilities.
I love what I do because it is challenging, and also because it is a way for me to contribute to our sustainable clean energy future. As my career has progressed, each day I develop a greater appreciation for what engineers do to have a positive impact. I’m proud to be a nuclear engineer, and am excited to continue contributing to an industry that supports safe, clean, reliable energy, and provides opportunities for people of my generation and future generations to make a difference.