Scarcely a year into her OPPD career, Carol Waszak got to know OPPD’s Fort Calhoun Station – the now-decommissioning nuclear power plant north of Omaha – inside and out.
“I was able to crawl around inside the condenser and get my hands on things and see how the plant really works,” said Waszak, recounting her 2005 experiences during the plant’s condenser replacement project.
The condensers are large components in the plant’s secondary, non-nuclear loop that took saturated steam after it turned the turbine generator’s massive blades, condensing it back into water before returning it to the steam generator.
After graduating from Doane College in Crete, Neb., with a degree in physics and Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in mechanical engineering, she brought that twin bill of talent to the FCS Nuclear Fuels group in 2004 as a “co-op” – part of OPPD’s internship program.
The condenser replacement experience allowed Waszak to get her feet wet, figuratively anyway, quickly learning the intricate systems that drive a nuclear power plant.
She recalls being amazed by the volume and complexity of the codes, standards, regulations and oversight involved. Even now in decommissioning, she and her team of engineers must carefully document everything they do and route decisions through multiple levels of approval.
“There are lots of rules and regulations that apply, and for good reason,” she said. “And everything is open up for review and challenge by oversight groups and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Understanding that regulatory rigor helped her advance in the organization, and she earned her current role as a supervisor in the site’s Design Engineering group. There, she’s responsible for the plant’s nuclear fuel, civil/structural and mechanical design.
“I typically have engineers who are working on long-term design projects and some who are doing short-term work supporting decommissioning,” Waszak said. “The people I work with are smart and funny. [They’re] the best part of my job.”
The person with the biggest influence on her career, however, was her father.
“My dad had a big impact on my choice to become an engineer,” said Waszak. “I really enjoyed problem-solving and loved math and science so, as I was looking into colleges, my dad recommended I go into engineering.”
Now a mother of three herself, Waszak routinely shifts from complex engineering to simply enjoying Tyler, Grace and Aiden’s many activities, including Cub Scouts, raising a feisty German Shepherd named Jakoba, yearly canoe trips on the Current River in Missouri and, of course, lots and lots of sports. “I love watching them play soccer and baseball!”
With the decommissioning of FCS now in full swing and an accompanying array of engineering projects to work, Waszak pauses to reflect on her 14-plus year career there. “I like that this job has given me so many learning opportunities. There is always a new challenge and a new problem to solve.”