By Brian Bullock
In recognition of Nuclear Science Week, Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant spotlights Pat Nugent and how he works to make both the plant and the Central Coast community a better place.
While most engineers thrive while working with numbers, principles and designs, Pat Nugent, director of quality verification at Diablo Canyon Power Plant, is different. He is a “people” person. He enjoys the human interaction of making sure the plant’s policies and practices are sound, conform to both Diablo Canyon standards and federal regulations, and protect its employees, the environment and the residents of the Central Coast.
“I like working with people. I spent a lot of time in high school doing public speaking and I spent my youth as a Boy Scout — I’m an Eagle Scout. I’ve volunteered locally with the Boy Scouts in the past. I like working with people as much as most engineers probably enjoy working with numbers,” said Nugent, who began working for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) while attending Cal Poly.
Nugent wasn’t really aware of Diablo Canyon when he enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at Cal Poly in 1984. But over the following four years, he worked his way into a job as a groundman with a PG&E line crew and wound up with an internship at Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, a plant operated by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District from 1975 to 1989 that was not far from his hometown of El Dorado Hills.
“That was my introduction to nuclear power. I had always found nuclear power interesting. I had taken classes at Cal Poly as part of my major related to all sorts of forms of power production — from oil- and gas-fired plants, to hydro power, to some more exotic things like magneto-hydrodynamic converters and fuel cells — and part of that was nuclear power. In considering the application and practicality of different technologies, nuclear made the most sense. A clean, non-emitting, reliable base-load power source that can run 24/7 that isn’t dependent on sun shining or the wind blowing,” he explained.
About a year after that summer internship, Nugent sought out a faculty advisor to see if he could get a co-op job at Diablo Canyon. When he learned there were two spots available that hadn’t been advertised, he “crashed the interview” and wound up with a position in regulatory services which fit him perfectly.
“It gave me the opportunity to not always be behind a computer doing calculations all of the time, but to use my understanding of engineering and engineering principles and system interactions with being able to work with people. And I really like that,” he said.
He served in several positions in regulatory services including as a supervisor for five years and a manager for two years. He also served two-and-a-half years in mechanical systems engineering. In 2005, he was loaned by PG&E to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations to work as a senior equipment reliability evaluator, a position he held for about 15 months.
When he returned to Diablo Canyon he served two years as a project engineering manager, three years as technical support engineering manager before taking over other projects. In June, he was appointed as the station’s quality verification director.
Quality verification is responsible for many things. It provides oversight for all measurable quality activities done on site, which means they have to conform to federal regulations and follow strict guidelines.
“Every nuclear power plant in the country has to have a quality assurance program that complies with federal regulations. So we’re the keeper of that program. Security, emergency planning, and engineering — we have to audit on a regular basis, typically about every 24 months to make sure they’re meeting all requirements,” he explained.
“I want to make sure this place is safe because it has a direct impact on my family, as well. I think that’s always important to remember.”
Nugent sees Diablo Canyon, which produces nearly 10 percent of all the electricity generated in California and 20 percent of the electricity PG&E’s customers use — free of greenhouse gas emissions — as a vital element in the effort to meet the state’s energy needs while reducing its use of fossil fuels. He also sees the station and its employees as integral pieces of the Central Coast community.
“Diablo Canyon is the biggest single clean-electricity generating source in the state. PG&E is also the largest private employer in the county and that is due to Diablo Canyon. The people at the plant are a huge economic asset to the county,” said Nugent, who has volunteered with several local organizations, donates his time as chief financial officer of a local nonprofit radio station, and is training coordinator for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department dive team.
“I think we have some of the best people in the industry working here — some of the brightest and some of the most committed and dedicated people. And not only dedicated and committed to the safety and reliability of the plant, but also dedicated to the community.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.