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Maintaining a nuclear power plant

Nuclear power stations provide a stable, low-carbon energy supply to power our homes and more. Engineering apprentice Victoria Brown explains what goes on inside the plant.

Victoria Brown Og

Nuclear power stations provide stable and low-carbon energy that we can use to provide us with heat for our homes, light for our schools and power for everything from hospital equipment to televisions. 

If you’ve ever wondered “watt” goes on inside a nuclear power plant, we have the answer from speaking to Victoria, an engineering apprentice who helps maintain the plant equipment and keeps an "ion" the plant.

Name: Victoria Brown
Age: 24
Job title: Maintenance Assistant Team Leader
Company: EDF Energy
GCSE subjects: Maths, English, Science, ICT, French, Religious Personal Education, Dance, Drama, Music, English Literature
Qualifications: NVQ level 2 and 3 in Engineering Maintenance and a higher national certificate in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, all whilst on the scheme.
Where do you live and work? I live in Folkestone and I work at Dungeness B power station on Romney Marsh

How does your work affect people’s lives and the world around us?
I work at Dungeness B nuclear power station where we generate electricity to supply to the National Grid. The two reactors can generate 1040 MW which is enough electricity for around 1.5 million homes and I am a part of the maintenance department. It’s important to maintain equipment reliability and keep the power station running safely and efficiently.

Having a stable supply of electricity is important to all of us in our everyday living and is essential for businesses, factories and hospitals to keep operating and delivering the services we require. It’s also important to consider how changes in the environment may affect people’s lives in the future and how low carbon sources of electricity mean we can avoid using fossil fuel generated carbon.

What do you do?
My current role is maintenance assistant team leader in the electrical team at Dungeness B power station. I take responsibility for the safety, effectiveness, productivity and quality of work of the maintenance team, undertaking the key responsibilities of a team leader when the team leader is unavailable. It is of utmost importance that the plant is maintained with full regard to site licence requirements, statutory requirements, company and location directives, procedures and safety rules.

I take an active role in scheduling my team’s work. It’s my responsibility to ensure that all work planned for my team is completed on time. I also help arrange my team’s training. Continuous training is important to keep our maintenance technicians’ skills at a high level.

After setting my team their objectives for the day I will often go out on plant to see them at work. I feel it’s important for leaders to be in the field to encourage best behaviours and to reduce errors.

What do you like most about your job in engineering?
The thing that drives me to come to work every day is the sense of belonging that I feel. Every role that I have undertaken has had so many links to the bigger part of the business, which makes me feel incredibly valued as an employee.

I enjoy taking on new projects and learning something new every day, which is something that naturally comes with this line of business. I enjoy working with my team and with other departments and I enjoy seeing the results that we share.

Why is nuclear power important for the UK?
Nuclear power currently supplies around one fifth of the nation’s electricity. Nuclear is a low carbon generator, and without nuclear power we could need more coal and gas to provide a stable base load of electricity. Coal and gas fuelled power stations release CO2 and other emissions as they burn fuel to generate electricity, whereas nuclear power stations operate on a closed loop cooling system which does not release any carbon emissions during generation.

Nuclear plants also provide a stable source of power to the National Grid, which is important to ensure we have the electricity we need on demand and a constant supply of power.

How important are safety considerations with nuclear energy?
We know from historic accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima that if safety is not at the heart of absolutely everything we do, things can go catastrophically wrong. Those working in the nuclear industry are very aware that we have a personal obligation to the public and environment.

Our plant is subject to continuous audits and inspections to ensure things are running safely and we operate in a very cautious way. There are many fail-safes and we always take conservative decisions - if there is the slightest chance something is unsafe then it won’t go ahead.

What inspired you to become an engineer?
I’ve always lived close to Dungeness B Power station, and I’ve always strived to get the best out of myself and secure a career which would be both interesting and full of prospects so that I can learn every day and constantly develop myself.

At school I worked hard, kept my head down and did the best I could. I had a mathematics teacher who was constantly pushing me in the direction of engineering, telling me I had good potential.

How important was studying maths and science in school for what you do now?
EDF Energy are looking for people with at least five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grade C or above in Maths, English and at least two science subjects. In order to have a career in engineering it is important to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, English and Mathematics) subjects from a school age so that when you come out of school you have choices open to you, whether you want to enter the industry through an apprenticeship or graduate scheme.

Tell us about your apprenticeship...
After receiving my GCSE results I saw the advert for apprentices at Dungeness B power station in the newspaper and so filled in an application form. After a successful interview and a four year apprenticeship I qualified as an instrument technician within the maintenance department and am now a team leader.

The apprenticeship offered a structured route into a career path and has been a fantastic opportunity to gain new skills, and I have completed the NVQ 2 and 3 in engineering maintenance and a national certificate in electrical, and electronic engineering. I have also now gained a higher national certificate in electrical and electronic engineering as well as an insight into the wider nuclear industry by completing an Award in Nuclear Industry Awareness.

There are fewer women working in engineering than men - what would you say to girls who might be interested in a career in engineering?
I think women shouldn’t be put off by the fact there are more males in the industry. This is slowly changing and there are many benefits to a career in engineering. An engineering career can provide you with the opportunity to develop your learning, education and to develop yourself personally.

I don’t think people realise there are so many different types of engineering, so there are lots of opportunities in very different areas. There’s also a great need for engineers right now in the UK which means that it’s not only a stable career choice but also can be very rewarding. With this in mind it is really important that all young people, regardless of background, are encouraged to understand the excitement and importance of this industry, and the career opportunities available to them.

What personal qualities are important for being an engineer?
Vision, enthusiasm, ambition and the ability to make things happen is important, as is the ability to face challenges with excitement and be determined to overcome obstacles with integrity and respect. Communication and relationship skills are also vital to being an engineer.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I enjoy listening to live music and I am also a singer in a band. I love visiting cities, especially London because I love the theatres and shopping there. I also like to travel to a different part of the world each year and contribute to different community projects.

Useful links:
Apprenticeships at EDF Energy

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