America's newest commercial nuclear power plant is also the first for the Tennessee Valley Authority to have a female plant director.
Beth Jenkins, a nuclear engineer who has worked in the industry for 21 years, became plant manager of TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant on Monday. She and site manager Tony Williams help direct the roughly 1,000 employees at the twin-reactor facility near Spring City, Tennessee, which had the last U.S. commercial reactor added to America's electric grid four years ago.
Jenkins, previously director of engineering at Watts Bar, succeeds Tom Marshall who was promoted from Watts Bar plant manager to vice president of nuclear engineering for all three of TVA's nuclear plants.
TVA spokeswoman Malinda Hunter said Watts Bar Nuclear Plant "is good at celebrating firsts."
In June 2016, Unit 2 became the first new U.S. nuclear reactor to connect to the grid in the 21st century, 10 years after the Unit 1 reactor was the last major U.S. commercial reactor added to America's nuclear fleet in the 20th century.
Jenkins is one of only four female plant directors of a U.S. nuclear power facility among the 60 commercial nuclear power plants in the United States, according to U.S. Women in Nuclear (WIN).
Less than 20% of the U.S. nuclear workforce is currently comprised of women, according to WIN.
AT TVA, there are currently 45 women in nuclear leadership posts, ranging from supervisor to executive vice president, Hunter said.
Jenkins said she has always focused on engineering, earning her Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in Indiana, and then a Master's in engineering from Union College in New York. Her career began when she went to work for Bechtel, where she supported projects for the U.S. Navy's nuclear fleet. She then moved to commercial nuclear generation and into nuclear plant operations, earning her senior reactor operator license at the Dresden Generating Station in Illinois.
"Since my first job in nuclear, I've had mangers all along the way who encouraged me and knew I aspired for a leadership role," Jenkins said. "More than any one person, I give credit to a number of supportive mangers and mentors who encouraged me to further my education and to take the initial [reactor operator] license training that altered the course of my career and directed me to where I am today."
One of the most challenging career decisions Jenkins made was moving to TVA and leaving Dresden Station near Chicago as her family grew.
"My family and I love the outdoors," she said. "We had visited Tennessee and knew it was the right time to make the change for our family. It was a tough decision to leave, but we love the people and our home in the mountains."
Despite her change in location, Jenkins said her focus in nuclear power has remained on safe power production.
"Safety is the number one priority with every role at the station," she said. "That's something you never take for granted."
Jenkins initial role with TVA was as an engineering program manager who supported all three of TVA's nuclear plants. In 2016, she joined the Watts Bar site team, first as plant support director then as plant engineering director.
Jenkins said being selected as Watts Bar's plant manager as her proudest career accomplishment.
"I care a lot about the people at Watts Bar and continuing to be a part of improving Watts Bar's performance," she said.