SEABROOK — Seven weeks ago, Travis Daun moved to New England to take on the new role of resident inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at Seabrook Station, which he said offers a unique environment compared to his previous roles.
Daun was born in Wisconsin and joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school for a few years before receiving a scholarship to attend Marquette University and earn his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. While in the Navy, he worked in the nuclear power program and was stationed on several submarines for 11 years.
“I was an engineer on a submarine out of Guam, so I loved that. It was great,” Daun said. “I learned a lot about nuclear power. Once I got out of the Navy, I went to work at a coal power plant in Indiana and gained some commercial generation-type experience on top of the nuclear experience.”
Daun began work with the NRC in 2012, starting in the Midwest (Region 3) in the Illinois regional office as a reactive engineer. After he became certified to work as a resident inspector, he starting doing inspections across the Midwest. From there, he moved to the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Pennsylvania for six years.
“You have to move locations about every seven years so you don’t get too close with the plant employees. Maintaining objectivity is key,” said Daun, who noted his next move brought him to New Hampshire. “Once you become part of the organization, you tend to stop noticing as many things, so they try to rotate us.”
A resident inspector’s goal is to understand the nuclear plant’s operations and oversee day-to-day maintenance in addition to long-term objectives. Part of Daun’s job allows him to get to know all levels of employees, from technicians to senior managers, on a regular basis. The majority of his day is now spent at the Seabrook plant.
“We want to know what normal is so that when something abnormal happens, we recognize it fairly quickly,” said Daun, who that added he reviews the plant’s corrective action program regularly.
There are issues specific to each plant depending on the location and geography, Daun said. For example, he said in California, the focus is on earthquakes and natural disasters.
At Seabrook Station, the focus includes monitoring alkali-silica reaction at the plant, known as ASR, a chemical process that creates small cracks in concrete structures. Daun said this condition is unique to Seabrook compared to other nuclear power plants.
Daun will complete daily inspections, including the plant’s structural monitoring program, alongside senior inspector Paul Cataldo. Because resident inspectors aren’t experts on concrete, Daun said he will turn to regional inspectors who have more training in that area.
“While I’m a pretty good general engineer, when it comes to something as specific and general as ASR, we monitor those situations and walk through all the places in the plant so you notice maybe not from one day to the next, but you’ll notice from one day to six months out that something looks different than it has been,” Daun said.
The most important thing resident inspectors do is review the plant’s corrective action program so when there is a problem that is ASR-related, “we can look at that condition report, what they’re saying, and do a quick assessment of their assessment and forward that on to our regional counterparts who can look into it with more detail,” he said.
Since Seabrook is one of the newest plants after opening in the 1990s, Daun said a lot of its technology is up to date. He said employees and the public can bring concerns about the plant to NextEra Energy, the owner of Seabrook Station, and the NRC.
“That part of the job is very important, but it’s not always talked about,” Daun said.
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.