Sold on nuclear

Darrell Corbin is the new site Vice President at Palisades Power Plant in Covert.

COVERT — Darrell Corbin, site vice president at Palisades Power Plant, was just 19 years old when he made a trip to a recruiter’s office in Indiana to join the military.

“After taking a series of assessments, the recruiter sold me on nuclear,” he said. “So, I joined the U.S. Navy Nuclear Power program and became intrigued with the technology.”

Now 33 years later, Corbin is Entergy’s top official at Palisades.

“While a sailor, I thought it was amazing how we had this unlimited amount of clean, reliable power that we could operate, for pretty much as long as we needed to,” he said. “I became educated in chemistry and radiological protection, and then served on the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise aircraft carrier for three-and-a-half years. After that, I was given the opportunity to become a Naval instructor teaching sailors on a prototype unit. That was a fun job.”

After marrying his high school sweetheart, Lisa, and having their first child, he realized a life at sea wasn’t for him anymore, so he worked to get a job within driving distance to his hometown of Indianapolis.

“I applied at six nuclear power plants in the Midwest before deciding Palisades was the place for me and Southwest Michigan was where my wife and I wanted to raise our family. I started as a nuclear plant operator at Palisades in 1996,” he said.

Over the last 23 years he’s held various positions across many disciplines in the nuclear industry, developing extensive experience, including serving the entire Entergy nuclear fleet as general manager of fleet operations support.

Corbin of Coloma holds a reactor license and senior reactor operator license, which are issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), to operate Palisades. He also completed Eckerd College’s Leadership Development Program and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators’ Senior Nuclear Plant Management Course.

He served most recently as general manager of plant operations before becoming site VP in August.

Herald Palladium Staff Writer Alexandra Newman recently got Corbin to share a little about his life in such a high-profile industry.

What has it been like being site VP so far?

It’s been humbling. Palisades has the finest nuclear professionals I have ever seen. They are what make Palisades a successful, safe and reliable plant. We have a saying, “600 workers looking out for 600 workers.” They care about one another. I get the opportunity to represent them within the industry, in the organization, with our peers and in the community.

Palisades has a strong record of community support. When our employees aren’t at work creating electricity for the area, many are giving generously of their time and money to help local causes. In their spare time, they serve on community boards, as soccer coaches, boy scout leaders, and pack bags so children-in-need don’t go hungry over the weekend, to just name a few volunteer efforts. I’m honored to lead such a dedicated team.

Do you have any plans or goals for your new position?

My personal goal is every employee will know their next step when the plant closes in 2022. Entergy has pledged to assist employees who want to remain and relocate within the company, or find work elsewhere after the plant shuts down. We are also offering employee development resources to help workers prepare and plan for their next opportunities.

I will remain engaged with employees, as well as the community, throughout continued operations and as we transition into decommissioning.

What is a typical day like for you?

My day starts at 5:30 a.m. I review documents that were sent to me overnight. I prepare for update and challenge meetings. My meetings begin at 6:30 a.m. and the calendar is usually full until 4 p.m. As a former nuclear plant operator, I like to be out in the plant, observing the work going on, encouraging, motivating and coaching. I’m only in my office about an hour-and-a-half of a 10-hour work day. The rest of the time I’m interacting with employees, maintenance, security, the plant manager, contractors; as well as the NRC resident inspectors, plant visitors, etc. Everyone is important.

Do you have a favorite memory/experience from your career so far?

While working for the Entergy nuclear fleet as general manager of fleet operations support in Jackson, Miss., I learned the nuclear professionals at Palisades had received an industry excellence award. I knew that this achievement was the result of a lot of hard work by a great team. Even though I was working at the corporate offices at the time and wasn’t in Michigan, I celebrated my coworkers.

I know that the nuclear power industry is one that’s always changing and improving, especially safety-wise, what have you noticed as the biggest change today from when you started?

Safety is our core principle – one that is unmatched in any other industry. Although most of U.S. nuclear plants are commercial competitors, we are invested in each other’s success to ensure the technology thrives. We share information, operating experiences, personnel and equipment.

Safety remains the top priority. Palisades is ranked in the NRC’s highest safety category, is operated by some of the industry’s best professionals, and is recognized as a top performer within the industry.

What do you like most about your job?

The people. I enjoy seeing hard work pay off and the sense of ownership and pride Palisades employees embody.

Whether you are mopping the floor to keep people from slipping or the nuclear reactor operator controlling the neutrons, everyone knows what they do is important. Because it is. There is a sense of family and pride at Palisades. We are a team and we are “Palisades Proud.”

Is there anything you dislike about your job?

Refueling and maintenance outages can be difficult. The days are long and require massive coordination. Still, there is a great reward in the accomplishments. More than 1,000 specialist contractors work with our 600 full-time nuclear professionals to replace fuel in the reactor, inspect and upgrade hundreds of pipes, pumps, electrical components and other equipment. Our most recent refueling outage in 2018 cost $87 million and is an example of Entergy’s continued investment into the safe and reliable operations of Palisades.

What are your plans for after the plant retires in 2022?

I’m evaluating my options. In the meantime, I remain focused on operating Palisades safely, securely, and reliably.

What do you do when you’re not working?

When it’s a bit warmer outside, I like landscaping and golf. Although my golf game isn’t that great, I’m still welcome on the Palisades team. I enjoy family vacations with my wife, Lisa, our two daughters, sons-in-law, and our first grandchild, Ava. Being a grandfather is wonderful; my wife and I spend a lot of time with Ava.

Anything else you’d like to say or make sure that I include that I didn’t ask?

Safety is our number one priority. Entergy’s focus remains on operating Palisades safely and reliably and will continue to make the necessary investments into the plant. That investment includes tens of millions of dollars for the next and final refueling and maintenance outage, scheduled for the summer of 2020. We will remain engaged with the community throughout continued operations and as we transition into decommissioning.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman