Going Nuclear: The DIT Trio Under a Reactor
When someone mentions commercial diving at a nuclear power plant, it immediately puts most in the world of Hollywood: Will there be explosions? Major meltdowns? Radiation poisoning?
The work is much different than many realize.
Nuclear diving became a reality for three divers in one of their most recent jobs.
An instructor and two alumni from Divers Institute of Technology (DIT) recently converged together for a job at a nuclear power plant.
Britt Coates is an instructor at DIT specializing in HAZMAT. He was accompanied by graduates Dmitri Quist, class Vice President of 101-16, and Roger Cook, class of 101-98.
The Core Team: Assembling DIT’s Finest Divers
Britt: Heavy Diving Experience (but not in nuclear)
Despite his impressive resume of dive jobs and supervising roles, Britt had zero experience working in nuclear power plants.
But his other experience and background lent itself to assisting recent grad, Dmitri.
Dmitri: The Passionate Diving Rookie
“Honestly, it was an honor working with an instructor,” says Dmitri. “It was good to have someone on the team that I could ask questions of immediately and that put his name on the line to bring me onto the project.”
And for Dmitri, that was a big deal.
“This was not only was my first nuclear dive job, but my first job after dive school.” With no other experience to lean on, Dmitri credits his instructor for landing him the job. And starting out at a nuclear power plant is pretty impressive for a new diver.
Dmitri praises the team as a whole for his ability to do the job and the success of the project.
“The rest of the team that was brought on was so experienced and easily approachable that after about a week it didn’t even feel like my first job. It was a well-oiled machine and we all trusted one another to accomplish the task at hand.”
Roger: World Traveler, Nuclear Aficionado
Another member of the team, Roger, was one of the most experienced when it came to nuclear diving. “I have been involved with many nuke projects over the years,” he says. “At home and abroad, from Europe to the Asias.”
He’s worked commercially inland and offshore since he graduated in 1998.
The Task: Desludging the Donut under the Reactor
The nuclear job took place at Duane Arnold Energy Center in Iowa.
The team mostly worked on a portion of the plant called the “torus”. The torus is connected to the reactor. The reactor uses atomic fission to turn water into steam, and then turns the steam into energy.
“The torus is like a large hollow doughnut under the reactor that serves a few purposes: emergency cooling and an emergency steam/water dump,” explains Roger.
The team was tasked with inspecting and repairing coatings, and removing radioactive “sludge” from the torus.
Dmitri explains what this means: “Coating inspection and repair is looking for degradation in the steel housing of the entire area of operations. Desludging is cleaning and filtering out any radioactive sediment that may have settled between inspections.”
The cleaning and inspection is all part of routine maintenance for the power plant. “The fission reaction causes radioactive sludge to slowly collect and it has to be removed once every year or two,” says Britt.
Dmitri continues, “Once all problem areas are logged, photographed and labeled, the repair team uses a quick drying and high strength epoxy to repair said areas. After repairs are complete, another inspection is done.”
The Misconceptions: 2 Nuclear Myths of the Deep
Nuclear diving may sound extremely dangerous.
But most nuclear divers would argue that their jobs are no more risky than other dive jobs.
“The risk of a decompression incident is almost zero. The depth is usually fairly shallow, and there are so many checks in place that one can feel pretty confident that any dive will be one they can walk away from,” says Roger.
With all of the precautionary measures in place, divers aren’t likely to experience any more radiation exposure inside the plant then they would outside the plant.
According to Roger, the most uncomfortable part about nuclear diving is the heat.
“[The heat] is due to the very nature of a steam generating plant coupled with the extra protective contamination clothing that must be worn,” he explains.
Another factor to keep in mind, Roger says, is the slow-paced work.
A technical step-by-step process “is required to eliminate potentials of contamination, injury, or equipment damage that is necessary in the nuclear world….”
This process can be time consuming. “The training/testing/security clearances from the plants alone are extensive and can last well over a week just to get into the plant itself. From there each step that would normally take a day or less on a non-nuke job can be a very lengthy process. A whole lot of hurry up and wait.”
But with all the down-time, divers have extensive opportunity to learn the ropes and prepare for the upcoming job.
The Trust: A Heritage of High Standards for DIT Camaraderie
While a dozen members made up the dive team, the trio with a background at DIT note the difference DIT made.
“I think there was a strong sense of camaraderie between myself and the other DIT grads,” says Britt. “We shared a heritage. The DIT grads I worked with were trained professionals with a high respect for safety and for the industry in general.”
“It was a homecoming of sorts,” Roger notes.
Britt, Dmitri, and Roger all came armed with high standards and skills they gained from DIT. And with the opportunity to implement those skills, they now have broader opportunities available to them.
“Using the skills that DIT taught me, mixed with keeping my head down and grinding until the day is done has made me some very good connections and gotten me onto some cool upcoming projects,” says Dmitri.
Safety First, Discovery Second
Nuclear dive jobs are no different in terms of safety than other dive jobs.
“Just like most areas of commercial diving, safety and risk management have to be practiced by all team members from leadership to brand new employee,” says Dmitri.
While radiation and contamination are a serious threat, each diver is responsible for adhering to safety protocol. “The tools are given to you and it’s up to you to keep your teammates to your left and right safe.”
In addition to the regular dive gear, nuclear divers also wore a device to measure divers radiation exposure. These devices were placed on each arm, each leg, the back and chest. Divers also wore special anti-contamination clothing.
Nuclear diving is still an “uncharted area of commercial diving,” as Dmitri says. “It comes with a lot of technical standards to follow, and can be extremely difficult to gain entrance into. However, as the job at Duane Arnold proved, nuclear diving can be a great experience for any level of diver. Whether it’s a first-timer, a long-time expert, or experienced instructor.
Beth Smith, Staff Writer at Water Welders
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