To keep their skills sharp in ensuring nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle run smoothly, operators undergo continual testing including inspections and oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In late June, the NRC will inspect the operator re-qualification program at Vogtle. Through the training, operators receive continuing education required by the agency and must test to qualify for a renewed operating license.
“Operators are enrolled in continuing training that is two years in length, meaning the cycle repeats every two years,” said Southern Nuclear Fleet Training Director Russ Godwin. “Operators get about 200 hours per year. Annually they have to take an operating test in the simulator and must pass comprehensive written exams every two years.”
Godwin said the training and requalification program primarily ensures operational proficiency, and that the plant continues running safely and reliably.
“It’s a pretty rigorous process,” said Brian Green, spokesman for Vogtle’s parent company, Southern Nuclear. “We welcome it because it makes us better and more able to operate safely.”
According to the NRC, the licensing program is nationwide to keep an industry wide standard.
“Things are simplest when the plant is running at 100 percent. If something happens to cause a trip when power goes from 100 to zero in a couple of seconds, operators work to respond and keep plant stable an determine what happened and prepare for restart,” Godwin said.
Godwin said there are typically five crews of operators at Units 1 and 2. One of the five crews is out of operations and in training each week.
During the exam, operators must successfully pass the simulator, demonstrate operations inside the plant and complete the written exam. The NRC program inspection includes examination of records, including oversight of the plant’s records to ensure operators are in good health.
“The inspection is part of a recurring inspection that the NRC performs at each nuclear plant. Licensed operator performance can have a significant effect on overall plant operations, and the NRC wants to make sure each operator is well-trained and qualified to do these vitally important jobs,” said Gerald McCoy, NRC spokesman.
He said there have been no major deficiencies identified in Vogtle’s training program, but said a few minor issues were identified in the past.
“One violation was that two exams repeated portions of previous exams. The other violation involved questions used —17 out of 70 — that did not meet the NRC’s guidance documented in agency regulations.”
Those violations were both discovered during the inspection in August 2015. The NRC inspection will take place the week of June 26 and a written report is expected to be publicly available within a couple of months following the inspection.
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