As a dedicated young leader in the nuclear energy industry, Kristine Madden, a reactor engineer at Entergy’s Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan, is actively involved in collaborating with colleagues to keep the plant safe. Besides pursuing a joint master’s degree in business administration and engineering management, Madden has embraced leadership roles in organizations such as North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN), American Nuclear Society (ANS) and Women in Nuclear (WiN). From her constant drive to learn from others and apply best practices, Madden exemplifies all of the qualities the industry looks for in its next-generation workforce.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in nuclear energy?
Madden: My parents encouraged me to pursue nuclear engineering because they saw it as the energy to fuel the future. I interned at Duke Energy for four years in a variety of disciplines, and that’s what really sparked my interest in the nuclear sciences.
Q: Why should young people be excited about working in this industry?
Nuclear energy is not just a means to produce power, but also a way to eliminate disease and increase standards of living worldwide. That motivates the work I do every day.
Q: What are your primary responsibilities at Palisades?
Madden: My primary duties are monitoring data and performance of the reactor core and reviewing radiochemistry data. I check isotopes that are emitted from the fission process to see if anything looks abnormal. I also monitor the reactor’s instruments, which is required by NRC regulation, to make sure that they are functioning properly and that they meet technical specifications.
My roles and responsibilities are also determined by the time of year, as we work on different projects depending on the plant’s scheduled outages, refueling and other assignments. This change in responsibility is indicative of a reactor engineer’s evolving role and the need to be flexible, which is part of what makes the position so exciting.
Q: What are some of the safety precautions you take and how are they monitored by Entergy?
Madden: By monitoring core performance and radiochemistry, I am able to foresee the presence of anomalies. If an anomaly exists, I immediately work with the management team and the operations department to troubleshoot any issues and take the appropriate steps to correct the problem, which can mean anything from repairing equipment to addressing a fuel failure, to even shutting the reactor down to address a bigger issue.
Q: You have held several leadership roles within the nuclear industry, including posts with ANS, the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC) and NA-YGN. You are also involved in WiN. What skills have you gained through your involvement, and how have they helped foster your career?
Madden: These roles have been instrumental in my ability to build a strong network of advisors who have helped me throughout my career. Through my involvement in IYNC, I now have nuclear colleagues, whom I call “friends,” from different countries.
The nice thing about a global network is that we have the opportunity to share lessons learned and best practices across international boundaries.
For instance, a fellow nuclear professional in the Netherlands emailed me with a challenge and I was able to pass along that information to a mentor in the United States, who was able to facilitate solving the problem.
My mentors at WiN have encouraged me to seek opportunities and be proactive. I was fortunate enough to attend the most recent WiN global meeting in Belgium. Being surrounded by so many powerful women in the industry really inspired me to take the initiative to pursue my own goals of expanding our educational outreach programs, particularly with young people who may not understand or even be aware of the power of nuclear energy.
Q: How do you apply your leadership skills in your role at Entergy?
In partnership with a colleague, I helped developed a business plan for an Emerging Leaders Program, where we identify high-potential employees at each site and offer an elective program that focuses on skill strengthening and interdisciplinary projects. Through this program, someone in an engineering role would have the opportunity to work in operations and maintenance so that he or she has a better understanding of how the plant works as a whole. At the end of the year, the individuals in the program will present on one of their projects to the entire leadership team.
Q: What has been your most rewarding experience so far working in the nuclear industry?
Madden: I have already had the opportunity to work in business development, leadership development, foreign material exclusion, radiation protection, reactor engineering and radiological engineering. Being a part of these teams has allowed me to build industry relationships within and outside of Entergy. By being involved in so many areas, I have a better understanding of how the facility works and how I can continue to be a part of maintaining and improving our plant and our community.
Within the nuclear industry, we share lessons learned, so having a continuous roster of peers and mentors in the industry who I can call on for the “tough” questions is something I really value.
Madden is joining the NextEra Energy Nuclear fleet and her new title will be operations unit supervisor – license class.