Ricky Mendoza is an equipment operator at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear energy facility. We asked Ricky to share his story of transitioning from the military to the utility sector.
I went to work for Uncle Sam right out of high school. After Boot camp, the remainder of my first two years in the Navy was spent in Charleston, S.C. and Ballston Spa, N.Y., as a student of the Navy’s Nuclear Power Training program. This was a rather intense/fast paced program, which has been compared to MIT regarding its level of difficulty and the dedication needed to graduate. After making it through the Nuclear power training pipeline, I went on to serve the next four years on the U.S.S. Alabama as a submarine electrician.
My training didn’t end once on board the Bama, but it did take on a new facet. The training now focused on combating engineering (equipment-related) casualties; firefighting; tracking and evading (and destroying) enemy submarines, and launching nuclear ballistic missiles. As a submarine electrician, I was responsible for maintaining the boat’s electrical distribution system and maintaining and repairing all electrical equipment on board, from washing machines to steam driven turbine generators. Quite often, I would be entrusted with the responsibility of controlling the boat’s speed, while standing watch as the “Throttleman.”
With my last duty station being Bremerton, Wash., I was fortunate enough to find Columbia Generating Station only a short four hour drive to the east. Luckily, I had former shipmates who had recently found their way into commercial nuclear power. Their opinions of the industry, with an ability to advance within the company, persuaded me to seek out a career in commercial nuclear power.
My Navy experience paralleled my current position at Columbia in many ways. First, it gave me the technical expertise needed to quickly become a contributing member of the Operations team. In addition to technical skills and knowledge, the most important attribute gained from my military service was the solid establishment of the “honesty and integrity” culture. This attitude and way of thinking is an absolute essential cornerstone of the nuclear power industry.
What I do
Equipment operators are the “eyes and ears” of the main control room (and the licensed operators) in a commercial nuclear power plant. We fulfill this role by continuously monitoring plant parameters. At least once every 12 hours, equipment operators walk down nearly every piece of equipment in every building of the power plant, to verify equipment is operating as expected. That means the EOs must have a solid understanding of the many different systems’ functions to help us identify degraded equipment performance or abnormal conditions. Equipment operators also perform all equipment manipulations in the field necessary to support surveillance testing, system start-ups and shutdowns and the tagging process, which prevents work on certain equipment. Additionally, EOs are members of the on-site fire brigade.
The most challenging aspect of the job for me is the never ending pursuit for system knowledge and experience. Every shift presents an opportunity to enhance our knowledge of plant systems and their safe operation.
Having said that, and despite my best efforts, I think my job is still a bit of a mystery to most of my non-Navy friends. But, I think if I had to sum up their feelings about my career choice I would use the word “proud.”
I would highly recommend a career in commercial nuclear power to anyone with prior Navy nuclear experience. A career in the Operations department of a commercial nuclear plant will provide years of fulfilling challenges. Once you master the skills of one position, there is always an opportunity to advance into new positions that provide new perspectives and new responsibilities.
Ricky Mendoza is an equipment operator at Energy Northwest and a member of IBEW Local 77.
Energy Northwest is designated a Military Friendly® Employer. To learn more about the Troops to Energy Jobs Initiative, visit: www.troopstoenergyjobs.com
To learn more about career opportunities at Energy Northwest, visit our website.