Case study

Reactor operator trainee — Katie Bannister

Katie enrolled on a specialist training scheme after graduation and is already getting hands-on experience in an important role within the nuclear power industry

How did you get into nuclear engineering?

I completed a MEng in Chemical Engineering with industrial experience at The University of Manchester. Following qualification as a maths and science teacher, I joined EDF Energy’s Graduate Scheme.

This gave me the opportunity to spend time in different departments across multiple power stations, so that I could decide on the right career path for me.

I chose to join the operations team at Sizewell B power station and I am now training to qualify as a reactor operator. Once qualified my job will essentially be to work on shift in the control room with a team to operate, shut down and start up the plant safely.

What's a typical day like?

I have the opportunity to operate the power station during start-up, shutdown and normal operation. I also carry out testing when equipment has been returned from its maintenance, complete regular training on our simulator to make sure we are up to date on all of the latest information, and I have an input into lots of development projects carried out on the power station.

I chose working with the operations team because it is a very fast-paced role. Every day is different and I will have lots of opportunity to take on responsibility and contribute to one of the station's core teams.

How has your role developed?

I'm now training to be a reactor operator. I'm based in our control centre, where we run the power station; in fact, I was part of the team that recently brought the station offline and I am now preparing to refuel the reactor.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love working with lots of people from different backgrounds and disciplines. Lots of the projects and testing requires us to work together as one big team, and it can be really rewarding when we succeed in these activities together.

I also enjoy the hands-on aspect of my job, it gives me the opportunity to learn something new and understand how it works. I can see the maintenance teams taking kit apart, and then I get to operate it when they have put things back together.

What are the challenges?

I had the opportunity to develop my language skills as part of the graduate scheme. During a visit from some of our French colleagues, I was able to put my new skills to the test, which although challenging, showed me how much I had learned during that year.

How relevant is your chemical engineering degree?

While I have found the subjects that I studied at university and the skills that I learned to be useful, they were not essential in securing my current job.

My colleagues in the same job role have a range of backgrounds, some with mechanical and electrical degrees, others with practical backgrounds who have come through the apprenticeship route.

It's the general skill-set, including team work and communication skills, in addition to the ability to apply both practical and theoretical knowledge to the job that we all have in common.

What advice can you give to others?

I'd recommend joining a company's graduate scheme. Mine gave me the chance to experience lots of departments before settling on my chosen path.

Another route that seems to work really well is to join a company on an industrial placement. This can be a good way to learn about the company and decide whether you might like to forge a career there.

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