Ep 102: Kevin Dougherty - Operations Shift Manager, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant
1 - Mechanical Engineering on Submarine Builds
Bret Kugelmass: Where did you grow up?
Kevin Dougherty: Kevin Dougherty was born in Maryland and grew up all along the East Coast. His high school physics teacher recognized his talent for mechanical things and pushed him towards engineering. Dougherty received his mechanical engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York. While he didn’t have any interaction with the nuclear program or nuclear engineering students at RPI, Dougherty took a job offer from Electric Boat, a submarine builder for the Navy. He started out working as a mechanical engineer on heat exchangers in the early 2000’s in Groton, Connecticut. Later, Dougherty got recruited into the shift test engineer program, which made him the responsible individual qualified on all the nuclear aspects of the submarine during a build. He spent two years in class to learn everything about the nuclear side of the submarine. Dougherty worked on the build for the first Virginia-class submarine, which involved a lot of growing pains.
2 - System Engineering at Calvert Cliffs
Bret Kugelmass: How are submarines built?
Kevin Dougherty: Submarine builds start in the warehouse, where a lot of the testing happens, including making the reactor critical. It is then placed into a dry dock, eventually flooded with water, and floated away. When a reactor goes critical for the first time, engineers verify that the predicted design calculations meet what is being seen in the field. Power levels are watched and when temperature changes, the reactor power should change appropriately. Kevin Dougherty worked for Electric Boat in Groton, CT from 2001 to 2007. At that time, he got transferred to the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. where all the design engineers for the Navy work. Doughtery acted as a liaison between people back at Electric Boat and the people in the Navy. He liked the industrial side of the work more than the office side, so around 2007, Kevin Dougherty applied to be an engineer at Calvert Cliffs in system engineering, which is now strategic engineering. His responsibility was to own one of the systems on the plant and make sure it is healthy and working properly. The three main systems are primary systems, which touch the reactor, secondary systems, which are generation or cooling specific, and electrical subsystems. Dougherty had prior primary systems experience from being a shift test engineer at Electric Boat, so he chose primary systems and he owned the reactor coolant system for three and a half years. A lot of the reactor coolant system management is outage planning and potential design improvements. Dougherty spent a lot of time digging into the root cause of relief valve failure. The Part 21 process through the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is used to share known issues throughout the industry.
3 - Calvert Cliffs Plant Operation
Bret Kugelmass: How does an operating system going outside the normal operation?
Kevin Dougherty: For a reactor coolant system (RCS), the goal is to never have the system go outside the normal operating pressures. There is one normal system in which it would open, which is if the grid power goes down. The RCS is pressurized at all times and the steam side, which goes to the turbine and condensers, is where most of the energy is released. Two different automated systems relieve that energy on a planned trip: turbine bypass valves, which bypass the turbine and put steam straight into the condenser, and atmospheric dump valves, which relieve pressure straight to the atmosphere. Main steam safety valves can also relieve full power if needed during an unexpected accident situation. Kevin Dougherty got his MBA from Georgetown during his time at Calvert Cliffs. He currently serves as a shift manager. He was recruited into a two-and-a-half year class to become a licensed operator eight years ago. Operators need to know what all the switches and indicators in the control mean and understand the impacts of any action taken. Dougherty got qualified to be a senior reactor operator (SRO), which is one of the control room supervisors. The integrated plant knowledge of how everything affects each other was mind-blowing to Dougherty. He also learned how sensitive the plant is to the non-nuclear environmental side of things. The plant cares about the wildlife on-site and impacts to the Chesapeake Bay.
4 - Execution of a Reactor Outage
Bret Kugelmass: Tell me about the relationship between the environment and the plant.
Kevin Dougherty: Calvert Cliffs is a good environmental neighbor. As a shift manager and leader, Kevin Dougherty puts the message out to the site that the team cares about the environment and people around them. He wants his people to be ready to go and have a good questioning attitude, but not be robots. Their head has to be one hundred percent on task, because the consequences of not being focused in nuclear power are big. Calvert Cliffs does one outage a year; each unit comes down once every two years to refuel. The outages range from 20-30 day process depending on how much maintenance is being done. These maintenance operations are usually big capital improvements to extend the life of the plant, such as upgrading turbine blades or installing a new digital control system. A lot of inspections are also done on equipment during outages, as well as pump replacements. During an outage, Kevin Dougherty stands shift manager, but his first role is nuclear safety. The focus is on keeping the workers safe, keeping the plant safe, and keeping the public around the plant safe. The plant is maneuvered around to make sure maintenance technicians can go in to repair or replace things.
5 - Daily Operations at Calvert Cliffs
Bret Kugelmass: Is there a stand-up at the beginning of the shift during an outage?
Kevin Dougherty: Every day, Kevin Dougherty does a morning briefing with the site where all the managers across the site are in one room to get everyone aligned on priorities and operations. Managers then go to their people to communicate the plan for the day and make sure everyone is focused. During the outage, the morning meeting is similar, but more stressful. Calvert Cliffs is on 12-hour shifts and Dougherty works a rotating day/night schedule on a five week cycle. During shift turnover, an official checklist is completed and shift managers pass on informal turnover notes that go to all shift managers. Every shift, a leadership report is also completed to evaluate how a team is performing from a holistic standpoint, not just technically. Supervisors go to the field to help their teams, but also observing for behaviors wanted in the field. The nuclear industry was ahead in terms of organizational rigor due to the potential consequences. The Institute of Nuclear Power Operators (INPO) was formed after the Three Mile Island accident. INPO was set up so that the best practices from 100 nuclear power plants could be shared with each other, even with competing companies. INPO has accelerated nuclear performance to get to a place of organizational rigor. Kevin Dougherty received his MBA from Georgetown a couple years ago, a degree he pursued out of curiosity to understand more than just the technical side of nuclear power. He has been able to share the financial side of why decisions are made with his team and how it ties into the day-to-day operation.
6 - Decision-Making as a Team
Bret Kugelmass: In your time at Calvert Cliffs, have there been problems that came up that the team had to put their heads together to solve?
Kevin Dougherty: Earlier this year, Calvert Cliffs had an electrical subsystem which was getting intermittent grounds on one of the DC buses. The team was able to narrow it to one of transformers which helps put power down the line. The decision-making process to either isolate the ground or leave the ground in required input from a lot of different people. They were 99.9% sure what would happen if they isolated that ground, but there was a 0.1% chance that they were wrong and something would potentially trip off. The consequences of the ground getting worse were greater than the 0.1% change of tripping something. A 15-page document was written detailing the decision-making process. The ground came back in the middle of the night while Kevin Dougherty was training a new shift manager. The pre-work done ahead of time prepared this new manager to make the decision easily. Dougherty is very proud of the work done at Calvert Cliffs. They are currently focusing on how to decrease cost while maintaining operational and safety excellence to ensure long-term operation.