Insights > Meet the pros: Alyx Wszolek
Meet the pros: Alyx Wszolek
Alyx Wszolek began working with Entergy Nuclear at Waterford 3 Steam Electric Station in October 2022 in the role of reactor engineering supervisor.
After graduating college in 2016, she began working as a licensed senior reactor operator for Exelon at Nine-Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station.
Q1: How did you become interested in nuclear engineering?
A1: My dad served aboard submarines in the Nuclear Navy when I was young. When he left, he got into commercial power generation for nuclear. He loved what he did, but I didn’t always intend on following his footsteps at all.
When I was in ninth grade, I took an engineering technology class that included the fun things within engineering like building bridges out of paper and using books to see how much weight they could hold. I’ve always been competitive, and everyone wanted to be on my team. That’s what originally got me into engineering.
My high school offered a program where freshmen created presentations, job shadowed and researched careers they were considering. I chose engineering but they wanted me to be more specific. Honestly, I chose nuclear because I thought it would be easy since I could get information from my dad, but the more I researched fission and fusion and reaction systems—the more interested I became. Then, I ended up sticking with it.
Q2: What are your responsibilities and projects like on the reactor engineering team?
A2: A lot of what we do online is monitoring and surveillance to make sure the data is trending appropriately with the core and thermal events. If the core must be powered down, we come to the control room, so we plan for that, too. We are integral in planning and communicating with operations about how we are going to take the plant off the grid and back on and monitoring throughout.
We support the startup testing for new cycles to make sure the 3D core simulator matches what the actual core looks like with new bundles. We test to prove it matches the simulator based on actual data. We’re responsible for the nuclear materials on site, which includes the fuel in the core and spent fuel. As a supervisor, I’m the special nuclear material custodian. We have a program that documents and tracks all nuclear material that has ever been on site, which is the fuel but also includes detectors and other devices. We’re also integral with dry fuel storage planning.
We have the expertise where if a trend starts to look different or if any issues surfaces, we know what to do and why it’s happening.
The operations team at the site are licensed to carry everything out by physically handling the controls. We just give recommendations, and they tap into our knowledge for advice.
Q3: What is a normal day at work?
A3: We have our morning meeting where we discuss tasks for the day and discuss data trends at Waterford 3. Mostly, we discuss progress on certain projects. A lot of our roles have to do with planned refueling outages, so months out we are already planning outage-related . When plant operators take the unit offline, we remove a portion of the fuel from the reactor, organize current fuel rods and replace the old fuel with new fuel. During the refueling, we also complete maintenance work and other projects to improve reliability.
After the outage cycle is over, we reevaluate and turn over projects to different members of our team so they can gain more experience rather than keeping the same person on the same project. So much of what we do outside of a planned refueling outage is planning for the next outage.
This summer, we had new fuel delivered. We coordinate the inspections of the new fuel, and we also physically inspect them, which was my first experience with that. I was excited to see that.
Q4: That reminds me of the Olympics and training and planning for years.
A4: Our job is measured by cycles. Occasionally, we have a forced outage. When the plant is returning to the grid we work around the clock and split days and nights in 12-hours shifts to support the control room. They follow a detailed reactivity plan based on 3D modeling. We take a snapshot of what the core looks like currently and run it through the code based on where we want to be. We get the values and then we plan and provide our plan to operations. Then, we monitor and make sure the plant matches the model.
Q5: Do you have a favorite accomplishment while you have been at Entergy?
A5: When I first joined Entergy, I outlined our vision and goals so we can strive for continuous improvement and to always be learning. The team has made it easy, especially for someone like me who came from a different company and a site with a different type of nuclear reactor.
I’m learning a lot by having experiences with a different reactor and a different company and hopefully I can bring a new perspective in. I’m so proud of my group and how they have taken on the challenges so far this year. We have successfully created plans and executed them well. I think the best is yet to come for us.
Q6: What’s it like being a supervisor as a young woman?
A6: One of the reasons I wanted to join Waterford 3 is because when I visited, I was very impressed with the number of women in leadership roles.
We have women engineers and directors and even our chief nuclear officer is a woman. She started with Entergy at Waterford. It’s really encouraging to see the supportive environment for women at Entergy. I look forward to getting involved with Women in Nuclear. They received the Most Reactive Chapter award this year for having the most volunteer outreach in the country, which is so cool.
Q7: What do you like to do outside of work?
A7: Travel. I just returned from Europe. I love exploring different places and cultures. I love reading and I joined a book club here in New Orleans. I started making baby quilts for family and friends, and now I’ve moved onto hemming clothes and making curtains.
I’m close to my family, figuratively and literally. They have all settled in the South. I am now a lot closer and have more time to spend with them than my previous workplace. It’s been nice to be able to be there for the smaller things like weekend visits instead of only seeing them on holidays.