Daniel Theobald

Daniel Theobald

What was the name of the company you worked for and what do they do?

I spent my year in industry working for the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), they are a UK government-owned and operated nuclear services technology provider covering the whole of the nuclear fuel cycle. NNL primarily focus on research and development (R&D) projects for companies from within the nuclear industry as well as providing services for operational nuclear reactors. The type of work that NNL specialise in includes new reactor build, operation of reactors, operations of fuel processing plants, waste management and decommissioning (WM&D), and post-operational clean-out of nuclear facilities.

What was your role within the company?

I worked within the WM&D business area under the particle sludge and slurry science team who specialise in IR&D work concerning solid-liquid phase systems. My team tackled a wide range of challenges associated with particles, sludges and slurries. These materials are ubiquitous across the nuclear industry and present one of the greatest challenges to the clean-up of the Sellafield Site. A large portion of the work I completed was R&D projects including engineering assessments, process optimisation and materials characterisation in support of Sellafield’s Box Encapsulation Plant (BEP).

I also had the opportunity to cross over and work alongside a few other teams in order to broaden my experience and career development. I worked on other projects such as the re-commissioning of the Molten Salts Dynamics Rig, a test rig for understanding the engineering properties of molten salts for applications in nuclear and developing new agitation methods for mixing old highly active storage tanks.

Can you please give me an insight into a typical day?

When working in the field of R&D your days are rarely ever the same. My routine centres greatly around the types of projects that I am on or the workload available to me at the time. When working at the Workington laboratory I would generally get in just before 8 am, switch on my computer and check my emails whilst preparing a to-do list for the day. After any early morning meetings I would begin starting work within the rig hall facilities making sure my process team (mechanics and technicians) were briefed on the jobs that needed to be completed that day as well as any safety procedures that were required. We would begin engineering trails through until lunch then continue on with trials until 4 pm. In-between and after running trials I would be fulfilling other duties such as ordering equipment, preparing safety documentation, analysing data or writing reports.

What did you enjoy the most and did you get involved in any interesting projects?

The most enjoyable aspect of my time on placement would be the amount of freedom and responsibility I received from my managers and technical leads on projects. I was hardly ever ‘supervised’ and would be trusted to organise, oversee and complete projects on my own, within reason. I spent a lot of my time visiting or working in other offices, besides Workington, on various other projects from outside of my business area as well as attending technical conferences and nuclear facility tours.

During the second half of my placement, I spent a lot of time working in the central laboratory, within the Sellafield site, to develop new techniques for agitating old site highly active storage tanks using novel materials. This work comprised of inactive, small scale, bench-top trials within the laboratory facilities. The facilities at the central laboratory were much more suited to this type of work and experts in this field were close by in these offices which made it easier to get support during my research.

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

I thought that a year in the industry would give me a wider perspective of the career path that I had chosen. I wanted to gain an insight into the challenges involved in the nuclear industry first-hand and obtain real experience in process engineering before, deciding to fully commit to the industry as a career choice. I knew going into NNL would be a very different experience and working there would give me a strong understanding of what I should expect once I graduate.

What did you hope to get out of this experience?

I wanted to understand my personal strengths and weaknesses as an employee as well as a chemical engineer. I knew that if I used my time in the industry to improve on my weaknesses that it would make me a better engineer and more employable individual once I graduate. In addition, I also wanted to try and gain a wide range experiences within the engineering profession so that I could find out which areas suited me the most.

Do you have any tips and advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

A year in industry is an opportunity to gain invaluable experience which will not only benefit you personally, but it allows you to be employable your future. It is also important that you branch out during your time in the industry by being pro-active, as it is a great opportunity to network with professionals in your chosen industry.