What are the most important parts of the job for a reactor operator?

In summary, the most important aspects of the job of being a nuclear reactor operator are knowing the procedures and following them, but also taking time to analyze and check before taking manual actions.
  • #1
mesa
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Hey guys, what would you say are the most important aspects of the job of being a nuclear reactor operator?
 
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  • #2
Wow, what a big question. Know the procedures, and follow them. But that answer applies to any kind of operator of any equipment.

Airline pilots are trained to react almost instantly. Nuclear power plants are automated such that anything needing instant action happens automatically. We want the human nuclear operators to take time to absorb, analyze, discuss, and check before taking manual actions.

If I remember right, in Sweden the rule was 30 minutes. If anything had to happen faster than 30 minutes, it had to be automatic.
 
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  • #3
Do you by any chance have any experience as a reactor operator anorlunda?
 
  • #4
mesa said:
Do you by any chance have any experience as a reactor operator anorlunda?
Not as an operator, but I did spend 17 years building nuclear power plant operator training simulators. So I had lots of interaction with the instructors and the trainees.

I would be terrible as the operator of any kind of equipment. When nothing happens, my mind wanders and I lose concentration. One night when driving home, I missed a turn. Two hours later when I came to the border check of another country, I noticed.
 
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  • #5
mesa said:
Do you by any chance have any experience as a reactor operator anorlunda?

I will answer for myself rather than anorlunda. His answer about know and follow the procedures is completely correct.

I'm a nuclear safety analyst, joined the industry in 1990. I've had to sit through a few group meetings reporting on people not following procedure. These are usually the most tense meetings we have.

I recall one in particular. An operator decided a particular maintenance procedure could be improved. So he decided on his own to do what he thought was the better procedure. Fortunately, there is always somebody who's job it is to follow up on every action in the station and check it was done according to procedure. The variations were discovered. The guy's explanation was not accepted and he was fired. Later, other people evaluated his suggestions and made some modifications. But the guy who didn't follow procedure was still not invited back.

The reason procedure is so important is this. The next guy who comes along must be able to have confidence that everything is where it should be. If he expects there to be power on this power line, and none on that power line, it better be that way. Because people can die if it's wrong. And huge damage can result to the station and to the public.
 
  • #6
DEvens said:
I recall one in particular. An operator decided a particular maintenance procedure could be improved.
You're probably not as old as I am. Did you ever hear of the 1970's BWR infamous incident know in the industry as "the Saturday night massacre?" That too was a case of an operator trying to innovate.
 
  • #7
anorlunda said:
Not as an operator, but I did spend 17 years building nuclear power plant operator training simulators. So I had lots of interaction with the instructors and the trainees.

Do you have a BSE in nuclear?

anorlunda said:
I would be terrible as the operator of any kind of equipment. When nothing happens, my mind wanders and I lose concentration. One night when driving home, I missed a turn. Two hours later when I came to the border check of another country, I noticed.

Ha ha ha, I've done that before, although not for 2 hours!
 
  • #8
DEvens said:
I will answer for myself rather than anorlunda. His answer about know and follow the procedures is completely correct.

I'm a nuclear safety analyst, joined the industry in 1990. I've had to sit through a few group meetings reporting on people not following procedure. These are usually the most tense meetings we have.

I assume you hold at least a BSE then?

DEvens said:
I recall one in particular. An operator decided a particular maintenance procedure could be improved. So he decided on his own to do what he thought was the better procedure. Fortunately, there is always somebody who's job it is to follow up on every action in the station and check it was done according to procedure. The variations were discovered. The guy's explanation was not accepted and he was fired. Later, other people evaluated his suggestions and made some modifications. But the guy who didn't follow procedure was still not invited back.

That was unbelievably arrogant on his part. Sounds like he was weeded out in time.

DEvens said:
The reason procedure is so important is this. The next guy who comes along must be able to have confidence that everything is where it should be. If he expects there to be power on this power line, and none on that power line, it better be that way. Because people can die if it's wrong. And huge damage can result to the station and to the public.

Sounds perfectly reasonable.
 
  • #9
anorlunda said:
You're probably not as old as I am. Did you ever hear of the 1970's BWR infamous incident know in the industry as "the Saturday night massacre?" That too was a case of an operator trying to innovate.

No, I don't know that one, or not by that name. Please tell.
 
  • #10
mesa asked about my university level. I have a BSc, an MSc, and a PhD, all in physics.

In Canada, most nuclear operators are educated by the utilities. They very much prefer to start with a high school grad and train them directly. The training consists of some years of combination classroom and on-the-job training. Their in-class stuff is wide ranging. Lots of math, physics, and chemistry. And lots of technical stuff like electronics, welding theory, and the behavior of concrete. If it's relevant to nuclear reactors they try to push it into the brains of the operators. I would guess that the training an operator gets is equivalent to a typical BSc, but with far more lab time than a typical undergrad ever gets.

The only other country I know anything about the way they train operators is China. They do something similar there. Each utility has an academy for training their technical staff, both the operators and the people more concerned with design and analysis. There is one at the Daya Bay station. I got to walk around outside this one. It's fairly picturesque for a nuclear plant, being on the shore of the South China Sea.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daya_Bay_Nuclear_Power_Plant
 
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  • #11
I am a current licensed senior reactor operator.

It’s all about procedure use and adherence, operator fundamentals, and conservative decision making.

As operators we need to be aware of the plant and be capable of recognizing if we are in a situation which needs the reactor shut down immediately because of degrading conditions or upon a failure of the reactor protection system. Unanalyzed conditions shouldn’t happen, but they can. And taking conservative action to scram the reactor or initiate a safety injection without hesitation is what’s important. Everything after that is about stabilization and minimizing the potential for complications. But I’ve seen situations occurs which are things you would never expect (turbine system stability issues causing rapid pressure swings and prompt flux changes, causing thermal duty cycles on the fuel. All control rods breaking off their seats due to Vortexing in the rod drive suction. Etc) and our job is to be the first line of defense for most events, and the last line of defense for the things which are too fast for us to react.
 
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  • #12
DEvens said:
mesa asked about my university level. I have a BSc, an MSc, and a PhD, all in physics.

In Canada, most nuclear operators are educated by the utilities. They very much prefer to start with a high school grad and train them directly. The training consists of some years of combination classroom and on-the-job training. Their in-class stuff is wide ranging. Lots of math, physics, and chemistry. And lots of technical stuff like electronics, welding theory, and the behavior of concrete. If it's relevant to nuclear reactors they try to push it into the brains of the operators. I would guess that the training an operator gets is equivalent to a typical BSc, but with far more lab time than a typical undergrad ever gets.

The only other country I know anything about the way they train operators is China. They do something similar there. Each utility has an academy for training their technical staff, both the operators and the people more concerned with design and analysis. There is one at the Daya Bay station. I got to walk around outside this one. It's fairly picturesque for a nuclear plant, being on the shore of the South China Sea.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daya_Bay_Nuclear_Power_Plant

That is very insightful, thank you.
 
  • #13
I've never been in a nuke plant, but I've been in lots of conventional power plants. The most difficult part of the operators job there appeared to be simply staying awake. Control room were usually littered with Playboy, Penthouse, etc. and operators were struggling to not to doze off. I would guess it is similar in a nuke plant.
 
  • #14
Hiddencamper said:
I am a current licensed senior reactor operator.

How long have you worked in the field, and if you don't mind, where have you/are you currently worked(ing)?

Hiddencamper said:
It’s all about procedure use and adherence, operator fundamentals, and conservative decision making.

As operators we need to be aware of the plant and be capable of recognizing if we are in a situation which needs the reactor shut down immediately because of degrading conditions or upon a failure of the reactor protection system. Unanalyzed conditions shouldn’t happen, but they can. And taking conservative action to scram the reactor or initiate a safety injection without hesitation is what’s important. Everything after that is about stabilization and minimizing the potential for complications. But I’ve seen situations occurs which are things you would never expect (turbine system stability issues causing rapid pressure swings and prompt flux changes, causing thermal duty cycles on the fuel. All control rods breaking off their seats due to Vortexing in the rod drive suction. Etc) and our job is to be the first line of defense for most events, and the last line of defense for the things which are too fast for us to react.

That last sentence says a lot.

I would imagine the un-'expect'ed events are fairly rare? Do you hold conferences with other operators to discuss such events, mitigation procedures, etc.?
 
  • #15
Dr.D said:
The most difficult part of the operators job there appeared to be simply staying awake. Control room were usually littered with Playboy, Penthouse, etc. and operators were struggling to not to doze off. I would guess it is similar in a nuke plant.
Your "guess" is completely incorrect.

I've never been in a nuke plant

No kidding.

I have been in lots of them, and even 40 years ago what you're guessing wasn't true.
 
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  • #16
gmax137 said:
Your "guess" is completely incorrect.
...
Odd. I was a reactor operator in the navy, and staying awake was 99.9% of the job.
So I would describe his guess as completely correct.

Perhaps you were an operator at a facility with a different type of reactor?
I've had arguments here at PF before, with people in that situation.

mesa said:
Hey guys, what would you say are the most important aspects of the job of being a nuclear reactor operator?
Same as with any job: Don't break anything.

mesa said:
Do you have a BSE in nuclear?
Reactor operators in the US navy have high school diplomas.
(Plus some military instruction, obviously. Don't want just any nose picker running a reactor.)
 
  • #17
OmCheeto said:
Same as with any job: Don't break anything.

Ha ha ha!

OmCheeto said:
Reactor operators in the US navy have high school diplomas.
(Plus some military instruction, obviously. Don't want just any nose picker running a reactor.)

So it seems, and with commercial reactors as well, this thread has been quite insightful.
 
  • #18
OmCheeto said:
Odd. I was a reactor operator in the navy, and staying awake was 99.9% of the job.
So I would describe his guess as completely correct.

Perhaps you were an operator at a facility with a different type of reactor?
I've had arguments here at PF before, with people in that situation.
First off, @OmCheeto - thank you for your service. I know that has become a bit cliche lately but I mean it, sincerely.

Second, I can't argue with your experiences, they are what they are.

Third, maybe I was a little too strong in my assessment. I was a little put off by the notion that the reactor operators are dozing off whenever they aren't busy with the girlie magazines. I think that's an insulting view. I agree, though, that boredom can be a problem in any control room. As they say, "99.9 percent boredom and 0.1 percent adrenaline." In my experience, the operators were too busy taking logs or running surveillance tests to doze off. In the commercial units, there is a steady stream of tests to run, exercising the pumps and valves that are normally idle, in standby waiting for a plant trip or other event.

I wasn't an operator myself, rather in the engineering side. But I did spend a lot of years in the commercial US plants and the only times I saw a penthouse magazine was in the admin buildings (outside "the fence"). And being caught sleeping anywhere onsite was a career-ending experience.
 
  • #19
anorlunda said:
Did you ever hear of the 1970's BWR infamous incident know in the industry as "the Saturday night massacre?"
You never followed up on this, can you please explain what that incident was all about ?
 
  • #20
artis said:
You never followed up on this, can you please explain what that incident was all about ?
Yeah, although I can't remember the plant or the date. @Astronuc may be able to cite sources about the actual incident, or perhaps even tell me that this story is a legend.

The story was that a RO on a Saturday night got bored and decided to improve the 3D shape of the flux. He started inserting and withdrawing rods ad hoc. His undisciplined maneuvers caused transients resulting in fuel perforations. Radiation alarms started going off. Many fuel bundles were damaged.

Needless to say, procedures and restrictions have tightened enormously since that day. It would be unthinkable for a RO to act like that today.
 
  • #21
anorlunda said:
Yeah, although I can't remember the plant or the date. @Astronuc may be able to cite sources about the actual incident, or perhaps even tell me that this story is a legend.
I'd have to know the year, and then I might be able to identify the event. PCI failures were a significant fuel performance liability during the 1970s, as were CILC and debris failures. I didn't start my NE program until late 1970s, and then I joined industry late 1980s. The company for which I worked had compiled two databases on operating PWRs and BWRs, and fuel failure was one aspect. Unfortunately, the databases were discontinued during the 1990s, and I didn't keep the documents when I changed employers.

I'd have to check my archives, but I do remember some multi-failure events (and it's probably the one with 80+ failed fuel elements). I'm guessing in the 1970s, and it was one of the older BWRs.
 
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Related to What are the most important parts of the job for a reactor operator?

1. What are the main responsibilities of a reactor operator?

The main responsibility of a reactor operator is to ensure the safe and efficient operation of a nuclear reactor. This includes monitoring and controlling various systems and processes, performing routine maintenance and inspections, and responding to any abnormal conditions or emergencies.

2. What skills are necessary for a successful reactor operator?

A successful reactor operator must possess strong technical and analytical skills, as well as the ability to work well under pressure and make quick decisions. They must also have a thorough understanding of nuclear physics and reactor operations, as well as excellent communication and teamwork skills.

3. What safety measures are in place for a reactor operator?

Reactor operators are required to follow strict safety protocols and procedures to ensure the safe operation of the reactor. This includes wearing protective gear, regularly monitoring radiation levels, and following emergency response plans in case of an accident or malfunction.

4. How do reactor operators prevent accidents and ensure the safety of the surrounding community?

Reactor operators undergo extensive training and must follow strict safety guidelines to prevent accidents and ensure the safety of the surrounding community. This includes regular inspections and maintenance of equipment, as well as continuous monitoring of reactor conditions and radiation levels.

5. What are the potential risks of being a reactor operator?

The potential risks of being a reactor operator include exposure to radiation, which can have harmful effects on the body. However, with proper training and safety protocols in place, the risk of exposure is minimized. Additionally, reactor operators must be prepared to handle emergency situations and make critical decisions under pressure.

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