Monday, August 11, 2014

Why Nuclear Design is the Most Rewarding Career I’ve Had

The following post was sent to us by Bechtel’s Angela McAlpin for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

Angela is a civil engineer and has worked in the nuclear industry for 13 years. She recently supported a one-of-a-kind nuclear pipe replacement project and is currently working on the Generation mPower small modular reactor project.

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

Angela McAlpin
Sometimes, I feel like a forensics investigator—the ones you see on TV who pore over files and mull over case details until the pieces of the puzzle come together to reveal a picture. The dedication and attention to detail needed to solve crimes appeal to me as they are the exact characteristics needed to be an effective engineer in the nuclear industry.

I have worked across a wide variety of industries, designing structures for solar and fossil power plants, waste treatment facilities, underground communication services, chemical demilitarization facilities, missile defense buildings and nuclear power plants. Out of all these industries, nuclear design is the most challenging and rewarding.

The nuclear industry holds the highest expectations of quality and safety in engineering design calculations. Every detail is scrutinized with an intense amount of rigor. Our work is triple checked, and is then subjected to reviews by peers, management, clients, and third-party industry personnel. The checks and balances are not just about adding conservatism, they are about getting the design right, and for me, that is the most exciting aspect of my work.

I recently finished an assignment as the civil and structural engineering supervisor on a first-of-a-kind project replacing a large Essential Service Water (ESW) system of an operating nuclear plant. The ESW supplies cooling water to the plant's heat exchangers and other components. I managed the civil and structural design documentation and client/construction interfacing for the project.

To support the ESW replacement project, we reviewed old drawings and photos; we talked to Bechtel engineers who designed the original plant; and we interviewed staff at the current operating site. When the design documents were complete, I was absolutely certain they were up to the standards and expectations of the nuclear industry. I was particularly proud of the final calculations and drawings because I knew how much time, effort and scrutiny was required to get to that stage. The successful construction completion of the project was a tremendous feeling of pride and accomplishment.

Nuclear is a crucial part of the nation’s energy mix because it’s clean, efficient power. With so much diligence, ingenuity, coordination and inspection put into nuclear design, people should feel comfortable knowing they have a safe source of power in their community. For the detail-focused, problem-solving civil engineers out there, a nuclear facility design will always be an assignment worth looking forward to. In fact, I now happily lead the conceptual structural design of an underground small modular reactor, and I have a blank piece of paper this time!


2 comments:

Tim said...

Awesome post, Angela! I'm glad to see that a career with Bechtel can lead to so many exciting opportunities!

Lys said...

Cool!