Karissa Palinka (she/her)
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, but moved to Oshawa, Ontario, at a young age. I would say I grew up in Oshawa.
I now live in: Oshawa, Ontario. I moved back to the area after a few years in Toronto.
I completed my training/education at: I completed a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University, and I am currently working on a Master of Engineering in Nuclear Engineering at Ontario Tech University
What I do at work
I am an engineer on the Darlington New Nuclear Project. OPG is not designing the reactor. We use our operating experience to review the vendor’s designs to ensure they are meeting Canadian codes and standards. We also make sure they meet our own rigorous safety expectations.
Right now OPG is writing our License to Construct application. This will be submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission later this year. We are summarizing technical information to show that the design meets the CNSC’s high standards. We are also discussing how safety will be kept top of mind at all parts of the project. This includes during the construction, commissioning, and for the operating life of our new build. I also get involved in the business side of power generation. For example, last year we prepared the business case, costing summaries, risk assessments, and technology reviews in addition to our normal day-to-day duties.
My educational background is very useful when reviewing calculations. For example, finding the appropriate size for a heat exchanger, or deciding what needs to be done to prevent corrosion in water-bearing systems. The most important thing a degree in engineering teaches you is how to review problems and identify solutions. I use weighted evaluation matrices to consider different options. Also, I use risk ranking methodology on a weekly, if not daily, basis. My engineering degree also prepared me for working in a cross-functional team environment. I work with project managers, engineers from other disciplines, vendors, operators, maintainers, and others in my day-to-day work.
During the pandemic, working from home provided an interesting pivot to virtual meetings. However, I would say they have successfully been integrated into the work culture now. I personally only speak English fluently. Although it is not necessary for my job, I am hoping to take lessons in French once my Master’s is complete. With OPG expanding into northern communities and other jurisdictions, I see French as a potential asset.
My career path is
I had no idea I would end up as an engineer when I was in high school. I really enjoyed biology and chemistry, so I thought maybe something in the sciences would be a good fit for me. It was in university that I first learned about chemical engineering. Chemical engineering is basically the industrial use of chemistry and physics. I transferred in my second year from biochemistry to chemical engineering. I did not do a formal internship. I had two summer work terms with the Works Department at the Regional Municipality of Durham. I started working with OPG immediately after graduating.
Within OPG I have had a number of roles. When I first learned about small modular reactors in 2017, I started to position myself to be on the engineering team. My research work at Ontario Tech University is in the field of molten salts. This is something used in some SMR designs. I think that background knowledge really helped me when OPG was looking to grow the SMR engineering team. Because I am such a people person, I think I would like to move out of a technical field into more of a leadership role in the future. I think it’s really important to have a strong technical understanding before moving into leadership.
I am motivated by
I really enjoy working on the Darlington New Nuclear Project team. I feel I am contributing to the future. I’m working with exciting new technology that can significantly help reduce carbon emissions. This will be very important as our society moves towards more electrification in transportation and other sectors.
While I do enjoy the mental stimulation that everyday problem solving brings, I really enjoy the team atmosphere at OPG. I get to work with and learn from very experienced engineers. In turn, I try to be a role model for the less experienced engineers that work on the project. I love to see others succeed, because when the team succeeds, OPG succeeds, and ultimately Ontario succeeds!
How I affect peoples’ lives
Climate change has been a major topic of discussion lately. Nuclear energy is a clean, reliable energy source. It is also a source we can deploy right now to significantly reduce carbon emissions. I want my beautiful country to stay beautiful and habitable for generations to come. The 300-MWe small modular reactor I am helping to deploy would power the electricity needs for about 360,000 homes. It will serve as a model to other areas that nuclear power is a great tool to combat climate change.
Outside of work I
I find I don’t have too much time outside of work with my master’s degree taking up a lot of my time. When I am off I like to relax by reading, cooking, or attending spin classes. I have volunteered in the past with North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN), Women in Nuclear (WiN) Canada, and Camp Engies. Camp Engies is an initiative to interest elementary school-aged girls in STEM fields. I am looking forward to picking up with those organizations once my master’s work is complete.
My advice to others
Be curious! You don’t have to have everything planned out at age 17 or 18. Take time to explore what interests you – ask lots of questions and say yes to opportunities. You might be surprised where you end up. Also, if you know someone that works in a field you might be interested in, interview them! My experience is that there are tons of people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience – you just need to ask.