Engineering News

Intro. to Nuclear Engineering’s Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station Tour

Author: UNB Engineering

Posted on Apr 23, 2024

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Dr. Olga Palazhchenko, one of our faculty members in Chemical Engineering, led a group of 18 students from her Intro. to Nuclear Engineering course on an insightful tour of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station back in October 2023.

Reflecting on her academic journey, Dr. Palazhchenko shared, "Point Lepreau was the first nuclear facility that I got to tour during my PhD. I had never stepped foot in a nuclear plant, so the first time I got to tour Point Lepreau made a huge difference for me. I got to see the research I was doing with modeling the primary heat transport system.” Organizing this tour, alongside the team at Point Lepreau, was a huge opportunity for the class; this was the biggest tour they had done since COVID-19.

The tour began with stringent security protocols, emphasizing the plant's commitment to safety and regulation. Dr. Palazhchenko noted, "When we got there, the first thing we did was a safety run-through, and it was one of the things that I really appreciate that the students got to see: how people talk to each other, how the hierarchy works, and how there’s protocols for even the smallest things. You get to learn situational awareness and see how a nuclear plant works from a human perspective, even before seeing the pieces of equipment.”

Before the tour started, the group was broken up into smaller groups, each of 2-3 people accompanied by a sponsor, or full-time engineering staff. “You really got to talk, just you and someone else from your class almost one-on-one with somebody who actually works there pretty much for the entire tour.”

Dr. Palazhchenko noted that each of the tours was a little bit different than the rest. The sponsor would ask the students what they were interested in seeing. Some students got to look at the breaker room and more of the electricity production end, while others were more interested in the chemical processing areas such as the water treatment plant. “We really got to see the scale of the different pieces of equipment, like the pumps and the heat exchangers, as well as the control room simulator, a functioning mockup of the real thing, used for training future operators. It’s not like anything that I could’ve shown them in class.” It was a unique experience in which the students got to experience the environment of a working power plant (wearing earplugs, the temperature changes with changes in elevation, etc.), but also how all the protocols are put in place so people can work in such environments.

A highlight of the tour was the immersive experience in the control room simulator, where students engaged in simulated scenarios, gaining insight into the responsibilities of plant operators. “In the mockup control room, the students got to role play and were given a scenario of what would happen if an alarm went off.” After which, the students had time to ask the staff questions about their job and the job opportunities offered.

Dr. Olga Palazhchenko hopes this was a positive and insightful experience for the students, especially because some of them are graduating this year. “I do know that for the people that are interested in applying for a job at this site, the tour was useful because they will go back and interview for a job, while having a sense of what some things look like.” She adds that many of the Point Lepreau staff on the tours are UNB alumni, and that it was nice for the students to see and consider this place their future employment site.

In conclusion, the tour of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Plant served as a transformative experience for students, providing them with a comprehensive understanding of nuclear energy production and its practical implications. Under Dr. Palazhchenko’s guidance, students gained invaluable insights into the complexities of the industry, paving the way for future success in their engineering careers.