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.
“My intention with this visit is that we wanted to have all of our undergraduate students see a nuclear power plant before they graduate," said Dr. Karen-Vierow Kirkland, associate department head and associate professor of nuclear engineering who teaches the course. "It helps them understand the magnitude of the facilities and to get a better understanding of the scope and the high level of safety that is involved in this kind of work."
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. Students were able to see the plant's turbine buildings, go into the radiation controlled area, and interact with a simulator that is an exact replica of the plant's control room. For some students who have prior industry experience, the trip gave them a different perspective.
“I’ve been able to go back and see how things have changed over a period of time after not being there,” said Andrew Foster, external committee chair for the American Nuclear Society (ANS) student section at Texas A&M. “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.”
*The Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M acknowledges with gratitude the efforts of Ken Peters, Chief Nuclear Officer at Comanche Peak Power Plant, as well as the efforts of former students Linley Raabee, Cameron Singleton, Cody Lemons and many others who organized and made this trip possible for the students.