My interest in the nuclear industry began when I was a student employee at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where I was a design intern for the Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) group in Charlotte, N.C. Pursuing my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) and interning at EPRI made me realize the importance of a cleaner and more reliable source of energy, which is nuclear. After graduation, I joined AREVA in Lynchburg, Va., where I started my career in the Component Analysis and Fracture Mechanics (CAFM) unit as a stress analyst. While serving with CAFM, I was interested in learning different aspects of the industry, which encouraged me to work on refueling outage assignments and eventually opened my doors for AREVA’s Voyager Program.
It was during my first Voyager rotation when I recognized a flaw in my learning plan. As I was transitioning my career through the understanding of nuclear steam supply systems, reactors and services, and business strategy, I realized that I had ignored the most important commodity of nuclear plants ‒ fuel. My quest to understand this commodity brought me to AREVA’s Richland, Wash., fuel manufacturing facility for my second rotation in the Voyager program in 2016.
During my 12 months in Richland, I was introduced to opportunities that were beyond my imagination. I learned the processes and collaboration it takes between different areas of the manufacturing facility to deliver fuel to our customers, while maintaining the highest safety and quality standards.
I started my second Voyager rotation as a Ceramics Process Engineer in the UO2 facility where powder is pressed and grinded into pellets. My rotation began by learning the operations of four major product centers: Uranium Conversion and Recovery (UCAR), Ceramics, Rod and Bundles, and the Component Center. This provided the opportunity to learn the fuel cycle from when the 30B cylinders arrive with enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to when the rods are loaded into fuel assemblies and prepared to ship to customers. Learning these processes has allowed me to familiarize myself with AREVA’s boiling water reactor (BWR) and pressurized water reactor (PWR) fuel designs (ATRIUM™ 11 and GAIA).
As I was getting acclimated to the manufacturing process, my role transitioned to a contributing team member of the Ceramics Operations. Ceramics provided me with the opportunity to execute production-related tasks (e.g., reviewing production parameters and inspection plans). My role also provided me the opportunity to perform numerous process improvement and equipment qualification projects. I learned how to maintain and modify assembly line equipment while interfacing with Plant Engineering and other product centers onsite. Being close to the assembly lines and operators is essential to understanding the importance of a proven process, managing upset conditions, and the impact on first-time quality of the product.
Working at the Richland site allowed me to learn the enrichment side of the fuel cycle. I had the opportunity to engage in discussions regarding centrifugation versus gaseous diffusion processes. It also opened the doors for me to understand how AREVA manages Feed and Separative work units (SWU) as we receive customers’ UF6. Most importantly, my time at site taught me how different departments of a factory work together in delivering a final product to our customers.
In addition to learning the manufacturing fuel cycle, my time in Richland provided me with an opportunity to harness my leadership skills while serving as the Vice Chair for NAYGN Richland Chapter. I had a platform to advocate for the nuclear industry, while understanding the new technologies at the industry’s horizon (e.g., small modular reactors and other next generation designs).
As I begin my third Voyager rotation in Lynchburg, Va., in the Fuels Contracts & Services group, I carry a greater understanding and appreciation for the fuel manufacturing process and how much team work and collaboration is needed to produce the end product. This learning experience is something I will carry with me throughout my career.