Leah Belding’s career path at Point Lepreau: from local youth to nuclear professional
October 20 2020, 13:28 PM
NB Power is proud to own and operate Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear power plant. Our employees at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station (PLNGS) work hard every day to produce safe, reliable and clean power for New Brunswickers. As part of Nuclear Science Week, we are happy to put the spotlight on one of our accomplished shift supervisors at the Station and New Brunswicker through and through, Leah Belding.
Standing in the Main Control Room at the PLNGS for the first time was a career defining moment for Leah Belding. At the time she was only 19, fresh out of high school, and working at the plant on a short-term contract in the Service Maintenance Department.
“It was a real ‘wow’ moment to see these nuclear professionals working in a room with hundreds of buttons and switches, and knowing that they were operating a nuclear power plant,” Leah said. “That is the moment when I knew I wanted to be part of the team that operates Point Lepreau.”
Leah was raised in the area, and calls the local community of Chance Harbour home, which is approximately 10 minutes from the Station. Upon graduating from high school, with family members, friends and neighbours who worked at the plant, she knew Point Lepreau was a good employer with diverse career opportunities.
During her initial six-month contract, Leah developed relationships with co-workers who became mentors and helped her learn about the career possibilities in the different departments.
“Getting an inside look at the roles that keep a nuclear power plant running was a great learning opportunity,” said Leah. “These conversations with staff helped me decide that I wanted my future to be at Point Lepreau, and specifically as part of the Operations team, which lines up with my love of hands on, dynamic work.”
Leah then enrolled in the Power Engineering Technology Program at the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC). Upon completion of the first year of the program, Leah joined the Point Lepreau team again, this time as a Power Engineering summer student. She was assigned to one of the Operations crews for her CO-OP program. This experience gave her a glimpse of what full-time employment would entail, the challenges of working shift work, and the day-to-day activities the Operators perform, such as applying work permits, general routines, alarm response needs from the Control Room Operators, and more.
Upon graduation from NBCC, Leah was hired as a Power Plant Operator (PPO), and took nuclear-specific plant training, along with radiation protection training, to give her a strong foundation to work at PLNGS. Two years into that role, she had the opportunity to become a Senior Power Plant Operator (SPPO) by completing additional training. In these roles, Leah performed field inspections and operational tests, among other activities, to ensure plant reliability.
Two years later, Leah was selected to become a licensed Control Room Operator (CRO), which she had set as her ultimate career goal.
A CRO is a position of leadership amongst the staff who are licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to operate the plant. A CRO is responsible for monitoring the status of systems or components, interpreting and responding appropriately to instrumentation, verifying the work of team members, and configuring the plant to allow specialized maintenance and testing to be performed. A CRO also plays a key role in plant emergencies and any events involving personnel safety.
The three-year CRO training program was challenging, with a year of general training, a year of station-specific training and another year of simulator training, where candidates train to respond to unlikely hypothetical emergency scenarios at the Station. This was followed by six months of co-piloting where Leah worked alongside a licensed operator in the plant to gain experience. Leah achieved certification as a CRO at the age of 29, just 10 years after setting her sights on the occupation.
“The training program to become a CRO was very rigorous and included a lot of self-directed reading and studying before we got to the hands-on learning,” Leah said. “In the midst of this program, I had my first child, and balanced my family and work commitments to keep my progress on track. I had tremendous support from my family and community, as well as my colleagues, who rallied behind me to help me achieve this important career goal.”
Leah spent the next nine years working on shift as a CRO, with her “thumb on the pulse of the plant.”
“I love the fast-paced work environment and team approach for Operations,” she said. “Being in the middle of everything and providing leadership and direction to the larger team is exciting and rewarding. Every shift I am relied upon to make important decisions based on what I have learned, to ensure the safety and reliability of the plant.”
In September 2016, Leah was once again recognized for her skills and leadership abilities. This time she was selected as a candidate to train to become a certified Shift Supervisor.
The Shift Supervisor role at PLNGS is the most senior role on shift in the Operations group. The Duty Shift Supervisor is responsible for ensuring the plant is operated within Point Lepreau’s Operating Policies and Principles, and the Power Reactor Operating Licence granted by the CNSC. Ultimately, they are responsible for maintaining nuclear safety to protect staff, the public and the environment. The Shift Supervisor makes operational decisions and prioritizes the work to be done. They also lead the response to any potential abnormal plant conditions or emergency situations.
She completed the simulator phase of her training, and after 40 co-piloting shifts with a senior mentor, the applications for her certification was submitted to the CNSC and she officially became a Shift Supervisor.
“It was a great honour to train to be a Shift Supervisor at the time,” said Leah. “I have spent 40% of my 19 years with NB Power taking formal training either in a classroom or a simulator, focusing on not only plant operation, but also the personal aspects of operator fundamentals – not just what to do, but how to do it to the high standards required and expected of staff.”
Leah, her husband, and their three children live in Chance Harbor close to where they both grew up. Their family ties run deep over many generations with connections to both PLNGS and the fishing industry. These links guarantee that Leah does not take the responsibilities of the Shift Supervisor role lightly.
“When I talk about ensuring the safety of the public and the area surrounding the Station, I am talking about my husband, children, siblings, nieces, nephews, parents, aunts, uncles and friends, and the places we call home,” she said. “I am talking about my husband and our family members who are local fishermen providing fresh, safe food for the people throughout New Brunswick and beyond. It is my commitment to operate PLNGS in a safe manner every single day to protect the communities around us.”