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Nuclear plant tour yields energy law insights

April 17, 2017

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Grace Settoon (center), equipment reliability coordinator at Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear power plant takes Tulane Law students Mauritius Nagelmüller (LLM ’17) and Grant Zastrow (L ’19) inside the facility during a March 24 field visit.


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Tulane Law students Lei Zhong (exchange student), Will Prorok (L ’19) and Tex Steinfeldt (L ’18), learn more about Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear power plant from Jude Foret (left), an outage scheduler at the facility in Killona, Louisiana.

Photos courtesy of Entergy Corp.

First-year Tulane Law student Will Prorok hopes to practice patent law and make technology more accessible in the public interest realm, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join students from an energy law course for a tour of Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear power plant on the Mississippi River bank in Killona, Louisiana.

And he left impressed: from the precision of the operation, to the safety features (built to withstand being hit by a jetliner or operate in a flood), to the importance of lawyers in the industry. 

“The amount of thought put into building and running a plant, in a way, demonstrated the need for lawyers,” said Prorok (L ’19), who has a biology degree from Pepperdine University. “A large number of people and groups must come together under contracts to supply energy to others who rely on it.”

The March 24 field trip, organized by adjunct Professor Bob Sloan, a former Entergy general counsel who also has experience in nuclear non-proliferation, added another dimension to Tulane Law students’ expanding options for learning up-close about the role of lawyers in complex business operations in the energy sector.

Each semester, students can spend a day touring Valero Energy’s St. Charles Refinery and quizzing members of the company’s legal team. And in 2016, Tulane Law added a visit to Blessey Marine, a company founded by alum Walter Blessey (L ’70) and one of the nation's largest maritime haulers of energy products.

Detailed knowledge of a client’s business operation in order to understand the challenges it faces is invaluable for a lawyer whose goal is to be a “player” in a firm, energy company, government agency or regulatory authority, Sloan said.

“You can be much more effective if you understand what’s on the mind of the people you represent and have detailed knowledge of precisely what they want to accomplish and why.” 

Sloan’s energy law, regulation and policy course deals with the entire range of major energy sources — oil and gas, coal, renewables (wind, solar, hydro and biomass power) and nuclear — and explores conservation and efficiency measures designed to squeeze more environmentally sound productivity from the same amount of energy. Sloan brings broad-ranging domestic and international experience to the course: In addition to almost 10 years as Entergy’s general counsel, he was general counsel for General Electric’s global industrial systems business, was managing partner at the Brussels office of a major American law firm and was a senior State Department lawyer working on non-proliferation and politico-military issues.

Through class readings and discussion surrounding nuclear power, he challenges students to weigh the benefits against legal, scientific, economic, industrial, safety and security concerns it raises both domestically and abroad. For instance, nuclear power generates huge amounts of electricity without producing greenhouse gases or other major pollutants, but extensive capital costs are a problem for the industry, and nuclear power is having trouble competing with natural gas. Also, spent fuel is highly toxic and must be stored safely and securely so that no portion can threaten human health or be use for nuclear explosive devices. 

Sloan said he arranged the plant visit so students could “understand in a more concrete way what I’ve talked about in class on the topic of the operation of the entire nuclear fuel cycle.”

The “Nuclear 101” portion of the Entergy tour covered design and mechanics: the plant, built about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans on a former sugar cane field, opened in September 1985. It employees 650 people and produces about 10 percent of Louisiana’s electricity. The pressurized-water design means the operation pumps in one million gallons per minute from the Mississippi River to run the reactor, but the water exits uncontaminated and returns to the river.

Equipped with safety helmets and goggles, students also visited different units and levels at the Waterford 3 site, including the control room, and received constant instruction in safety protocols.

“The most impressive thing about the plant was the level of redundancies, not only directly related to the production of fission but the plant overall,” Prorok said. “The scale of the plant is immense but so is the precision with many instruments, bigger than a school bus, responsive to changes in the millionths of a measurement.”

 
   


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