Students from the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University attended a daylong tour of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant on Feb. 21, a look inside the working end of the nuclear industry that few have the privilege to view. The tour, which is part of the students’ senior nuclear engineering capstone course, provided them with the opportunity to see how their classroom knowledge translates into the real world.
“The main purpose behind this visit is that through all of our time at school, we look at diagrams, schematics and books in the classroom,” said Andrew Foster, external committee chair for the American Nuclear Society (ANS) student section at Texas A&M. “We are told to study these things, but this trip allows students to go see it in person to get a better feel for the scale and complexity of an actual steam generator or a pump.”
The tours, given by the plant’s staff, also provided the students with an overview of the layout of the plant, the types of regulatory agencies the plant works with and energy capacities, and also work opportunities both within the plant and in other parts of the nuclear power industry. For Foster, who was a gas turbine technician for the U.S. Navy and also previously interned at the plant, his prior experiences gave him a different view of the trip.
“I’ve been able to go back and see how things have changed over a period of time after not being there,” Foster said. “As a graduating senior, this has helped me to look at what the industry changes in terms of security, radiation protection practices and other aspects of the plant. The feel of the plant is very much the same, but there are minute details that change and those serve as indicators of the overall performance of the plant.”
The students visit locations such as Comanche Peak because it is important to provide students with an understanding of design work and its importance to the power industry.
“Design work in my mind is paramount at a power plant because you are either designing a plant from the ground up, or you're a caretaker of a plant and you want to put an addition in,” Foster said. “You have to wonder how you can make that work within the system. It's not as easy as Legos; you have to design what you want to build.”
The trip can also provide some students affirmation about their career goals and aspirations.
“For me and others, going to a power plant is a reassuring thing because the coursework that we work at is not the easiest,” Foster said. “There’s a lot of late nights, blood, sweat and tears and a lot of questioning is this really what I want to do. This can happen with any college student, but getting the opportunity to go look at one of these places every so often helps to reaffirm that passion for the work.”