An Impressive Career History
Even though John has been working at the Palo Verde plant for approximately 33 years, he actually began his career in 1979 as an electrician wiring houses. When he became bored with fishing wires he started working for Phillips Uranium in New Mexico before moving to South East Arizona and working in a large open-pit copper mine. It was in 1983 when there was a strike at the mine that John became aware of the Palo Verde Generating Station, which was just getting started and needed maintenance electricians, especially ones with previous experience working in the copper mine.
After successfully passing the entrance test, John was hired and helped with the start-up testing for the nuclear power plant, which he thought, was “a lot of fun” because of the great learnings that he obtained. After 2 years of working in the start-up of Units 1&2, John moved into the Unit 1 Electric Shop, eventually becoming team leader. At that time there wasn’t a separate Valve Services Group, but as an electrician he was able to work on both the mechanical and electrical aspects of valves, which he found really enjoyable. In 1990 the official Valve Shop was created, in order to have professionalism and consistency across the board and three years later the valve shop was made site wide and existed alongside the electric shop, mechanic shop, instrumentation & control (I&C) shop, and the HVAC shop.
John said that it was at that point he moved to the valve shop, which he really liked. He was there for a long time before the training opportunity in the valve service shop opened up and he became the Valve Service Instructor. From there he moved to safety and non-discipline specific training and was busy constantly teaching the upwards of 700 people a year classes like FME, Conduct Of Maintenance, Tagging & Clearance, keeping up qualifications, etc.
Not long ago, the Valve Service Instructor retired and John moved back into the valve service training and “really getting my feet wet again with it. I go to every outage to work with the Valve Shop, so I keep my qualifications up and then I go back and I use that opportunity to mentor as a training instructor,” he explained. “They really rely on me coming back to help them having that experience because we have a lot of new people. Many have retired so we now have a lot of smart, young workers but they don’t have the hands-on experience. Most of us grew up at Palo Verde; this is my only nuclear power plant so it’s all I’ve ever known. I learned without all the complications that you have today. Today technicians are held to a higher standard. That’s why they rely on me to come back to the shop and work with them and share what I have learned.”
John is responsible for providing valve service training for the entire Valve Service Group at Palo Verde. He does all the training and prepares all the documentation to maintain the training qualifications. A lot of his job involves writing lesson plans, teaching courses, and ensuring all the paper work is correct because there are regulatory observations with the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). He provides training and training material on for all the ‘normal type of valves’ the plant uses whether it is a Target Rock valve, solenoid air-operated valve (AOV), motor operated valve (MOV), either electrical or mechanical, etc. He also covers refurbish inspection, testing, and troubleshooting.
Twice a year he leads the Craftsmanship Training, which he calls ‘Just-in-time-training’. This session is held right before an outage and covers anything the group wants to review or go over before the outage. John said that he really enjoys this course because the technicians in the shops actually present a lot of the material but he oversees the session, prepares all the lesson plans, and ensures everything meets the specific SAT requirements.
When asked what a typical working day is like, he is quick to answer that his work weeks are often Monday to Thursday, with ten hour shifts. He begins most days with assessing what is going on in the plant trying to determine what upcoming work were training could be involved or if there are any problems that need support. During refueling outages, He then goes to the valve shop to work with the employees there. He will then observe their work and provide any feedback that he thinks would be useful. He confessed that the better part of most days is spent doing paperwork: making sure lesson plans are approved, that PowerPoint presentations are completed and approved by the leadership team and generally just making sure every aspect of the course is ready to go.
“Then there is the teaching component of my job,” explained John. “I teach anywhere from 20- to 40-hour classes depending on what the specific subject is. So I have to always maintain my qualifications as an instructor. I also have to be observed to ensure I’m teaching everything correctly and I have a lab observation too. In order to even become an instructor I had to go through the standard INPO approved training course. I don’t have a teaching degree. I come from the school of hard knocks. What I enjoy the most about my job is actually teaching. I love being at the front, I feel very comfortable in front of an audience. I also enjoy working with all the people in the different shops. I also enjoy working with the new generation of workers. I love taking my knowledge and my experiences and incorporating all of that into the lesson plans.”
But he clarified that this can also be a major challenge: making sure that his lesson plans adequately cover aspects that will help the workers while also meeting the fairly strict requirements of the SAT program. This is why after any class he teaches he circulates a feedback form so there is an element of post-training evaluation and he can incorporate any feedback into the next course. He doesn’t enjoy the administrative aspect as much as the actual teaching but he does realize its importance.
John also finds it challenging trying to keep on top of current information and ensuring there are enough hands-on opportunities to his lesson plans. He has to try and provide enough equipment for his hands-on refurbish classes but sometimes the trouble is finding enough space to house everything.
The Importance of AMLs & Vendors
In his capacity as a valve instructor, John knows all about the Approved Manufacturer List (AML) and explained that all the valve brands used in the plant are the same from when the plant was originally built. The same brand of MOVs is used, which include ones from Rotork, Flowserve’s Limitorque line, and Emerson’s EIM line. The plant also uses two types of solenoid valves from Target Rock and Valcor Corporation. Sometimes the vendors will come into the Valve Shop to help the group solve a problem or help to educate everyone about a specific product.
John admitted that he likes it when the vendors come into the shop and listen to everyone first before being ‘directive.’ It is important to know that the vendors can be supportive and help solve any problems the guys may be experiencing in the valve shop. Sometimes the vendor representatives are on the younger side, like some of the plant workers, but John maintained that it is crucial to get their feedback and knowledge about the products and that can help prevent valve problems in the future.
Supporting Future Generations
Doing everything possible to ensure that the next generation of workers in the nuclear industry are adequately trained is perhaps the most important part of John’s job. He detailed that, “Training the new generation is a big deal. The kids these days are really smart because they get a lot of book learning but that isn’t nearly enough. They also have to see it, and experience it, in the plants. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we can bring history to them, a history that we’ve seen but they haven’t. The situation in the plant is different now compared to when I first started. We don’t see the same things today that we did 10 or even 20years ago. For example, today things, like valves, are just wearing out. When I was younger the focus was on making everything run correctly and smoothly but now the focus has shifted to how products are wearing out. We have to recognize what exactly is wearing out and why. What is causing it and how can that be prevented? It all comes back to being able to understand a problem and learn from it.”
John believes that the future of the industry will be to find ways to become more efficient and streamlined in plant processes. When he first started in the business, he said that everyone followed exactly what the manufacturer recommended, even if it seemed repetitive or no value added. In recent years, he has noticed that there is a shift and that now workers are working with the manufacturers and the engineering department to perform the correct amount of maintenance. However, John also believes that this calls for even better training and support for the future generations so that all requirements can be met in terms of the equipment used in the plant, especially with part obsolescence becoming a larger and more persuasive problem. He believes that workers have to be ready to adapt and that will be easier the more training and experience they have. As long as John is still instructing he will try his best to make sure they will get all the knowledge, experience and support they need.