Ep 106: Larry Smith - Manager, Regulatory Assurance, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant
1 - Training for Navy Nuclear Submarines
Bret Kugelmass: What brought you into the nuclear space?
Larry Smith: Larry Smith’s first exposure to nuclear was in the Navy, where he became intrigued with submarines and became a part of the Navy Nuclear. His curiosity of history and World War II led him to the Naval Academy. At the Academy, he was exposed to ships, submarines, the Marines, and pilot school and ultimately chose submarine work. Smith found out his senior year that he was selected for nuclear power, which required interviews at the Naval reactors in D.C. before selection. Larry Smith spent five years active duty in the Navy, which included six months of nuclear training and six months prototype in Ballston Spa, NY where individuals would go on-shift at reactors and get qualified. Submarine officer basic school in Groton, CT was three months long and missile school in Dam Neck, VA since he was on a ballistic missile submarine. While at sea, Smith would serve with 150 guys for 90 days. 18-hour days consisted of shift or watch for 6 hours and the other 12 hours were spent catching up on personal work, doing drills to get proficient, or getting qualified. Smith became qualified engineering officer to watch, putting him in charge of the three people in the engine room. Qualified officer of the deck is in charge of the submarine when the commanding officer is not there and then goes through a review board to receive Dolphins. Submarine fuel is designed to handle quick changes in power levels.
2 - Engineering Roles at Calvert Cliffs
Bret Kugelmass: What civilian nuclear role did you decide to take on?
Larry Smith: After five years in the Navy, Larry Smith had decided he didn’t want anything to do with nuclear because of all the paperwork and red tape. He realized he missed the rigor and the discipline of the nuclear industry and decided to enter a civilian role at Calvert Cliffs as quality assurance. Smith was responsible for looking at engineering and making sure they were following requirements. His role progressed from quality assurance to engineering, starting out in design engineering and moved to license renewal. At this time in the late 90’s, the plant decided to pursue a license extension from 40 years to 60 years and Smith was asked to develop a thermal fatigue monitoring system for the plant. He then moved to core design where he learned how to deal with the codes and map the fuel to verify the right fuel is in the right location. The goal of moving the fuel around within the core is to get the most energy out of the fuel as possible; a third of the fuel is replaced every refueling outage and the other fuel is once burned fuel and twice burned fuel that is moved around. Smith then transitioned into procurement engineering where he focused on buying parts and doing equivalencies for obsolete parts. He didn’t want to be in just one aspect of engineering, instead wanting to get a rounded view of all aspects.
3 - Self-Regulation in the Nuclear Industry
Bret Kugelmass: What was the first management role you took on?
Larry Smith: Larry Smith’s first management role at Calvert Cliffs was as supervisor in systems engineering, transitioning to mechanical and civil engineering supervisor shortly thereafter to fill a need. The supervisor oversees the engineers’ work and research to make sure they are considering everything they should consider. The plant must meet the licensing requirements which were committed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The nuclear industry needs to make sure processes and procedures are being followed to protect the health and safety of the public. At one point, Smith left the industry to do forensic engineering. He learned during that job that a lot of industries take out the safety functions available in equipment to make sure production goes up and to lower costs.
4 - Emergency Preparedness & Environmental Protection
Bret Kugelmass: How did you take your forensic engineering experiences and take them back into the nuclear industry?
Larry Smith: After Larry Smith’s time in forensic engineering, he realized that the nuclear industry was doing things right in keeping their workers and the public safe. Everybody has to wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) and the team focuses on understanding the why’s of behaviors and requirements. Smith is also in charge of emergency preparedness (EP) which entails making sure the plant can respond at any kind of event, such as a hurricane. The EP staff looks at if they need to have people staffed around the clock at different locations if something happens, such as a loss of off-site power or flooding. Smith supervises environmental folks at the plant as well. Calvert Cliffs has permits from the State of Maryland that must be met, including discharge, environmental stewardship, and equipment leaks. The local environmental community is very supportive of the plant and the staff works to make sure they understand what the plant is doing. The environmental group goes around to different groups on-site to make sure they understand what is required for environmental stewardship and that the correct protection measures are being taken.
5 - Nuclear Plant Drills and Inspections
Bret Kugelmass: What are the different levels of emergency preparedness?
Larry Smith: The Calvert Cliffs Power Plant interacts with the county agencies in Calvert County, Dorchester County, and St. Mary’s County. The plant works with the Maryland Department of Environment to do drills like there is an event and all the parties interact, which is sometimes observed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and FEMA. During a drill, a simulator comes up with the drill and the data and different emergency response organizations, of which there are four on-site, get a drill each year. The scenarios encourage thinking outside the box to recover the plant or protect the health and safety of the public. There are also hostile action drills which cover a situation in which an armed force tries to attack the plant. Every power plant has a senior resident from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and a resident inspector on-site at all times. They are included in matrix notifications, which allows them to get into the details and see how the plant operates. Different inspectors come for various inspections during the year, but the residents have their own requirements for what they need to inspect. Having a good relationship with the NRC helps in regulatory margin and they are able to understand how things work. Larry Smith serves as station duty manager, which makes him responsible for an issue with the plant if it were to come up. Smith would get the engineering or maintenance support that the plant needed to address the issue. Nuclear energy is a clean source of power that operates all year round. The safety and the dedication of the people at a nuclear power plant helps provide as much energy as they do.