Power System Analysts | Chattanooga, Tenn.
Twin sisters Felicia Blackwell (pictured in printed top) and Alesia Justice (in blue) were 18 years old when they heard that TVA needed a few dozen pipe hangers and supports inspectors at its nuclear plants. They were freshmen at the University of Alabama and, at their dad’s urging, had just declared nursing as their major—but they couldn’t pass up the chance at a job with TVA.
“When we found out there were nearly 2,000 applicants for 26 positions, we didn’t think we had much of a chance,” recalls Blackwell. “But we were both selected, and we left the nursing program after just one semester.”
That was at the end of 1982. The pair spent the next six months at Northeast Alabama Junior College taking calculus, physics and engineering classes and TVA training in welding, drafting and reading engineering drawings. That led to more training in welding engineering quality control and to their first job: inspecting welds during the construction phase of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.
“I’ve had people ask me how on earth we went from nursing to inspecting pipe hanger welds,” laughs Justice, who later graduated from nursing school and has maintained her license as a registered nurse. “I tell them the two really aren’t as different as they seem. Nurses evaluate their patients’ health and work with doctors to come up with corrective actions to help them get well. Welding inspectors evaluate welds and pipe supports and work with engineers to correct any defects.”
In the course of their 30-plus years of service at TVA, Blackwell and Justice have worked at all three TVA nuclear sites, with one often following the other to each new position.
“Alesia and I are hard workers,” Blackwell explains. “Give us a job, and we will do whatever it takes to get it done.”
The pair’s work ethic has led to opportunities at TVA. Blackwell recalls a time when she was assigned to a special project. “My boss needed to find someone to fill in for me and said, ‘I wish I had another one just like you.’ I told him I had a twin sister who had the same work ethic as I do, and he ended up bringing Alesia over to cover for me until I returned. Our group never missed a beat.”
Doing your best is a family trait, according to Justice. “Our mom and dad were hard workers, and they expected the same from us. They taught us to do a good job at whatever we did. We got our first real job—serving meals at a local boy’s camp—when we were just 13. But we were helping around the house and in the garden, weeding and hoeing, long before that.”
Both routinely put in extra hours. “I’m an early riser,” says Blackwell. “I’m usually on the computer by 4 a.m., running reports. That way, I can hit the ground running when I get to work.” Justice often is at work by 6 a.m. “I don’t leave until I get everything done,” she says.
Justice spent several years at TVA’s now retired Widows Creek Fossil Plant, working her way up to Unit Operator. “That’s something I’m proud of,” she says. “It was a good feeling knowing that the megawatts the plant was producing were helping to power homes and businesses across the Valley. But the rotating shift schedule was hard on my family. When my 10-year-old begged me to get a ‘normal’ day job, I decided to go back to Sequoyah as a performance analyst.”
Today, Blackwell and Justice work in different groups, but their jobs are still similar. They help track the day-to-day performance of TVA’s power plants with the objective of identifying trends that could signal future problems.
Blackwell is an analyst in TVA’s Environmental Compliance and Operations group. Her focus is on the environmental performance of TVA nuclear, coal, gas and hydroelectric plants. Justice is an analyst in corporate nuclear regulatory affairs and focuses on nuclear regulatory compliance.
“We both review the daily condition reports and other performance data provided by the plants and alert management if we see anything unusual,” explains Justice. “That helps plant personnel get ahead of problems. It allows them to investigate and take corrective action before an issue can affect plant operation.”
Blackwell adds: “When an issue is identified, we’re also involved in ensuring coordination with outside regulators, corrective action plans are effective and lessons learned are shared across the fleet. The ultimate purpose is to prevent problem occurrence or recurrence.”
The pair is often asked what it’s like to be twins, but they still don’t have a ready answer. “It’s normal for us,” says Blackwell. “We’ve always had each other so it’s hard to imagine not being a twin.”
They agree that having a twin is a good thing, though. “I’ve literally had my best friend beside me from birth, and I couldn’t be more thankful,” says Justice.
The pair has had some fun with it, too—from switching dates in high school to confusing TVA coworkers who wonder how they can be on one side of the plant one minute and on the opposite side the next. “People come up and start talking to me all the time, and it takes me a minute to realize they think they’re talking to my sister,” says Blackwell.
The two mirror each other in other ways, too. “We don’t just look alike; we think alike,” says Justice. “I can’t count the number of times one of us will say something and the other one will say, ‘I was just thinking that.’”
Another thing they agree on is how fortunate they were to begin their career with TVA so many years ago. “We’re grateful for the opportunities TVA has given us to learn new skills and try different things,” says Blackwell. “And grateful for jobs that are challenging and meaningful,” adds Justice. “At the end of the day, it feels good to know we helped in at least a small way to make life in the Valley better—to provide safe, affordable power and protect the environment.”
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