Q & A: Sushil Jain, CEO of Empyrean Services

When Sushil Jain came to the U.S. from India more than 30 years ago, he had two suitcases full of clothes and $200 in his pocket.

Now he’s is the CEO of Empyrean Services, a Sewickley-based nuclear management and consulting company.

“Here, you can accomplish what you want to accomplish,” the 59-year-old said at his Sewickley office last week. “This is a very good country to be in business in. If you work hard, you’re recognized and can go places. Unless you’ve lived in a different country, you don’t appreciate it.”

Mr. Jain’s company might be local, but Empyrean did not do much with nuclear utilities in Western Pennsylvania until about two years ago, when it began working with Cranberry-based nuclear company Westinghouse Electric. Empyrean opened in 2000.

“Three to four years ago, we were knocking on Westinghouse’s door,” Mr. Jain said. “Today Westinghouse might be our biggest client in terms of revenue.”

Mr. Jain came to the U.S. in 1976 to pursue a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, which he received from the University of Cincinnati a year later. His first real paycheck — $7.50 per hour — came from doing research for John M. Christenson, a professor of nuclear engineering at the university.

“I had never worked or made money before that, so it felt so good,” he said. “The first thing I bought was a cassette player.”

Before starting Empyrean Services, Mr. Jain was as a junior engineer at FirstEnergy’s Davis-Bessie nuclear generating station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. He was involved in the design of plant's nuclear core, safety systems and safety analysis.

“Except for maybe a year or so, I’ve been in nuclear,” he said. “Nuclear is my bread and butter. Nuclear is my blood. I know the industry inside and out.”

Mr. Jain stayed with FirstEnergy for 19 years, eventually making his way up to director of engineering and services. In 1996, he joined Duquesne Light as vice president of nuclear services. 

After four years, he moved on to start Empyrean.

“One of the best decisions I ever made was to do that,” he said. “My dad said, ‘You’ll never get anywhere working for somebody.’”

Q: What are some of the biggest differences between the way nuclear power is handled in the United States as opposed to other countries?

A: The biggest difference is the ingrained safety culture, which is being very disciplined regarding issues no matter how small. You go after it, and kill it. You cannot wait. Response to identified issues is very controlled and organized; unlike Chernobyl where they had complete disregard of procedures and implemented actions they should not have.

Another big difference is how we are regulated here in the U.S. I come from a third-world country where regulations may not be rigidly enforced. Here, a regulator is like God. Attention to detail and a questioning attitude are very important in the U.S. nuclear industry.

Q: You’ve spent 37 years in the nuclear industry. What changes have you seen?

A: When I started my career, the average plant capacity factor [plant efficiency] was 60 to 65 percent. Now it is around 92. That is a significant improvement. Another difference is radioactivity control. When I started, almost everyone had to wear anti-contamination clothing or coveralls in most areas of the plant. Now you can go in street clothes in many areas of the plant.

Q: Where do you see nuclear heading?

A: I think it’s here to stay. I think it’s going to continue its slow pace of growth. With all the emphasis on carbon footprints and global warming, nuclear is going to continue to play a higher role.

Q: What are your thoughts on Homer Simpson, the incompetent father from the popular television cartoon “The Simpsons” who works at a nuclear power plant as a nuclear safety technician?

A: I don’t watch ‘The Simpsons’ but sometimes in the plant they would show some clips to lighten things up. I get a kick out of it just to say, ‘Hey, it’s funny but kind of absurd.’”

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak

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