OPG engineer leading ‘first-of-its-kind work’ at Darlington
Over his wide-ranging career, Keith B. Brown has taken to the high seas and travelled the world with the Royal Canadian Navy, and he’s even shot for the stars as one of the top astronaut candidates for the Canadian Space Agency.
But it’s the engineer’s latest assignment at OPG that is serving up to be his biggest challenge yet.
As Engineering Section Manager for the Darlington Refurbishment project, Brown is leading a team of OPG employees and project partners to successfully overhaul and upgrade all four of Darlington Nuclear’s turbine-generator units, which generate electricity from the steam produced by Darlington’s reactors.
This work has never been done before in the station’s nearly 30-year history. Unit 3’s turbine generator system will be the first to undergo the extensive refurbishment after Unit 2’s reactor returns to service in 2020. The work will involve a complete overhaul of the entire turbine-generator unit and auxiliary systems, as well as upgrading old analog controls to digital.
“It’s challenging, complex, and first-of-its-kind work, with multiple vendors involved,” Brown said. “Because of this equipment’s age and complexity, there are very few people that still know how to replace this. So we’re working hard to cultivate the depth of knowledge to really understand this equipment.”
As part of the project, Brown is overseeing all Unit 3 engineering deliverables from a scope and quality point of view. If there’s anyone uniquely qualified for this important role, it's Brown.
Born in Calgary and raised near Edmonton, Brown enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy at just 17 and served as a marine engineering technician and diving specialist for 15 years. While travelling around the world, he helped commission new warships and learned a lot about engineering, systems, and operations.
While enlisted, he further solidified his engineering chops with a bachelor’s degree and later a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Alberta.
After the navy, Brown worked in the oil and gas industry in his home province before hearing about a job opening from an OPG employee at a technical conference that he helped start. He sent in his resume and before long he was flying 2,700 kilometres to Ontario along with his wife.
He started off with OPG’s Inspection and Reactor Innovation division in 2006 as a senior technical engineer, and moved into an operations role at Pickering Nuclear GS four years later. In 2017, Brown left Pickering to join the Darlington Refurb team.
“It was a big change,” Brown said of his move. “The initial plan was to move out east to Ontario for three years, and it's now been 14 years – we still haven't decided whether we’re going to stay,” he joked.
True to his world-travelling roots in the navy, Brown’s current role takes him to many different countries, including Poland, Germany, France, and Switzerland, where many parts integral to the turbine-generator refurbishment are being engineered and manufactured. This includes a massive turbine stator that arrived to Darlington from Poland by ship last year, which Brown personally inspected at the factory.
Most recently, he led an outfit of employees from OPG, CanAtom and General Electric as they toured nuclear power plants in Belgium and France to learn more about turbine and generator control upgrades in preparation for Unit 3’s refurbishment.
In the lead-up to this important work, Brown is confident about what lies ahead.
“We’re installing a new system that works in a totally different way,” he said. “We have done a lot of testing, including installing a full-scope maintenance simulator on site, and will be performing all kinds of commissioning activities. But, at the end of the day, once the reactor produces steam, it has to work.”
Employee spotlight: Keith B. Brown
Position: Engineering Section Manager
Work location: Darlington Nuclear GS
Years of service: 14
Favourite place to visit in Ontario? Huntsville. “It’s great for scenic bike rides.”
Hobbies: Competitive triathlon, volunteering with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), vacationing on the beach.