Insights > Entergy Engineer Sees ANO’s Significant Role in the Town He Calls Home

Entergy Engineer Sees ANO’s Significant Role in the Town He Calls Home


George Woerner, engineer, at Arkansas Nuclear One power plant in Russellville, Arkansas
George Woerner, engineer, at Arkansas Nuclear One power plant in Russellville, Arkansas

With a 41-year career rooted in the early days of Arkansas Nuclear One, George Woerner still summons the awe for the large equipment and components it takes to do the job. This month, as the plant synchronized its Unit 1 back to the grid after a successful refuel and maintenance outage, Woerner takes pride in seeing that equipment run reliably to power the lives around him with carbon-free electricity.

That was among the unique factors that piqued his interest from the start, leading to a long and successful career in nuclear engineering with Entergy. The lifelong Arkansan, born and raised in Stuttgart, attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “In school, it was very interesting work,” he said of the nuclear side of engineering.

“From an engineering standpoint, you get to see a lot of unique equipment that you just don’t get to see anywhere else. Everything is fairly large in a nuclear power plant.”

In his decades on the job, Woerner has been through plenty of refuels. The cyclic refueling and maintenance outages – roughly every 18 to 24 months – are necessary to ensure the plant’s continued safe, secure and reliable operation. “Started work in 1979, the units had just really begun,” Woerner says of ANO’s Unit 1, which went commercial in 1974, and Unit 2, in 1980.

He was there for some of the early refueling outage days. “The first summer that I started, right out of college, I spent several months doing the piping walkdowns in our containment buildings,” he says of the detailed inspection process to spot developing problems or issues. “So, I learned a lot about the plant in my first six to eight months of work. I spent a lot of time at ANO.”

Woerner worked with what was then Arkansas Power & Light (Entergy’s predecessor) in Little Rock until 1990, when he moved to Russellville, home to ANO and county seat of Pope County. “I’ve been here ever since.” The city bordering Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River is home to nearly 30,000 people and the state’s only nuclear power plant.

As a two-unit site, refueling outages at ANO alternate on an 18-month schedule, with this year’s Unit 1’s refueling in the spring and Unit 2 in the fall.

Refueling outages normally last a month or more, depending on the maintenance scheduled for equipment reliability, and are typically scheduled in spring and fall, when power demand is lower. Plant operators take the unit offline and the work begins. The team replaces a third of the fuel in the reactor, shuffles current fuel rods and replaces the removed fuel with new fuel that will operate in the reactor for three cycles — until the next outage. Used fuel is moved to a pool for storage, then moved to a concrete dry storage cast. The team completes maintenance work and other projects to improve reliability while the unit is offline. Outage details are meticulously planned, with major projects planned years ahead.

The life of ANO units has included some major equipment change outs, such as the steam generators. From an engineer’s point of view, the chance to see the equipment apart, after just looking at drawings and calculations, is of keen interest. “You can actually see the equipment you’re working on. It gives you some insight,” Woerner said.

His role in refueling now is design engineering support to help supervisors and the engineers implement their projects for the outage. His primary role at ANO is working in design engineering, as part of the recovery effort to improve the plant’s design and licensing basis.

“During refueling outages, we have a lot of talented people — skilled craftsmen and professionals — that come in and help us,” said Woerner. As many as 1,000 contractors may come into the area to support the process, from training and prepping for the outage, to work during the outage. That brings a big boost to the Russellville economy, in hotel and restaurant traffic and even with the travel trailers that fill area parks. “You get quite an influx,” Woerner said. “I’ve actually seen a lot of growth in the hotels here, over the last 20 to 30 years.”

Russellville’s location on the Arkansas River, close to the Ozark Mountains, provides an abundance of outdoor recreational activities that help Arkansas live up to its official logo as “The Natural State.” In addition to the good restaurants and shopping in town, there are state parks, lakes, hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain bike trails and boating. That made it a great place for Woerner and his wife, Jayne, to raise their two boys, Zach and Lance (now 31 and 28, respectively).

“I love to play golf, and it’s got some great golf courses,” Woerner said of his outdoor sport of choice for weekends and days off. He and buddies often play at the Russellville Country Club, and take special golf outings, too.

ANO pulls a lot of employees from the local pool, including operators, maintenance workers and engineers from Arkansas Tech University right there in town, as well as from a talent pool from Little Rock, and all areas of the country, Woerner said.

“Overall, ANO has had a big impact on the Russellville area economy, with the number of employees, and they’re buying houses here, they’re raising kids here, so you get a lot of economic impact from having a two-unit nuclear site right there in town.” And, with the periodic refueling, “It just helps give the economy another boost, with all the extra folks coming in.”

Entergy team members and contract partners wrapped up Unit 1’s 29th successful refuel on May 9, bringing the plant safely online to provide clean, reliable baseload energy for the upcoming peak summer months.

Arkansas Nuclear One, owned by Entergy Arkansas, is a dual unit pressurized water reactor located in Russellville. ANO’s Unit 1 began commercial operation December 19, 1974 and produces 836 megawatts of safe and carbon-free electricity for the state. The station boasts a team of more than 950 highly trained and dedicated nuclear professionals, committed to their plant and community.

Kaylin Parker
Communications Specialist II