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BechTech Podcast: Cracking the code with John Minichiello

John Minichiello is a codes and standards subject matter expert and specializes in pressure vessels and piping. He has worked in the commercial nuclear industry and on U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites for nearly 50 years developing technical processes and training teams to resolve seismic and pressure issues in equipment. In his current role, John consults on various projects, working with customers and delivering engineering, construction, and start-up solutions related to design, examinations, and the testing of pressure systems.  

In this podcast, Jennifer Whitfield sits down with John to discuss:

  • Making the switch from the commercial nuclear industry to working with the DOE to immobilize nuclear chemical waste;
  • How critical pressure safety is while designing pressure vessels and piping;
  • Chairing a committee to develop codes and standards surrounding high density polyethylene piping.

Listen to the podcast. 


Interviewee: John Minichiello (JM)

Interviewer: Jennifer Whitfield (JW)

JW: Thank you for joining us today for another episode of our BechTech Podcast, a podcast where we highlight technical specialists at Bechtel. I'm Jennifer Whitfield, and today we're highlighting pressure vessels and piping specialist, John Minichiello. John has nearly 50 years’ worth of experience in the design and analysis of pressure vessel systems for both commercial nuclear power plants and Department of Energy processing facilities. John, thank you for joining me today. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

JM: Thank you, thanks for having me. I appreciate it, and hopefully, we'll have some fun and learn some things.

JW: Let's get started. Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you've progressed to where you are today?

JM:  Well, I graduated with a master’s in applied mechanics in 1970, and I've spent about 35 years in what people would call commercial nuclear, which is nuclear power plants. In 2005, I felt it was time to make a little bit of a switch, so I joined Bechtel to do work in the Department of Energy Complex, which is nuclear, but nuclear in a different way. It's not power. It's building and making nuclear materials and then reprocessing and cleaning up nuclear waste. That's been interesting. I've enjoyed seeing things from the other side.

JW: Can you tell me about your current role?

JM: Yes. Currently, I'm a subject matter expert. As a Bechtel Fellow, we are expected to provide guidance in our particular field of excellence, and my field has always been pressure vessels and piping and the codes and standards that are related to pressure vessels and piping. Typically, what I do is I provide guidance to folks who, for example, might be doing analysis of vessels at the DOE complexes, or they might be doing piping analysis at the complexes.

JW: Can you tell me a bit more about your technical specialty in piping and pressure vessels, and can you explain the importance of your specialty as it relates to the EPC industry?

JM: Yeah, very good question because if you say piping and pressure vessels, people think you lay out the pipe and you study fluid flow. The structural aspects of pressure vessels and piping are very different, and that's my focus. If you think about pressure vessels and piping, they are two of the more numerous items/commodities in most facilities. Particularly piping, and evaluating [the piping] properly, is critical to the operation, meaning keeping the plant operating so its mission can be achieved, but it's also safety, and that's one of the things I learned very early on in my career. The boiler and pressure vessel code to which we design pretty much all of our vessels and a lot of piping first focuses on is pressure safety.

JW: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your career with Bechtel?

JM:  If there's one that stands out, it's the work that we did over a period of almost 10 years at the Waste Treatment Plant in Washington, developing methods to evaluate hydrogen detonation events in piping systems. We wound up working with three of the leading experts in the world in this area to develop methodologies to both predict what's going to happen, and then once you predict what the event looks like, how do you model it in the piping system? You know this supersonic wave is passing through a piping system, and once you do, how do you evaluate the pipe to make sure it's OK? That is, you do not fail all your pipe supports or you don't over pressurize the pipe. Pipe is one of the more rugged things in this world when it comes to ability to withstand dynamic events, but it can fail and we had to come up with ways to say it was not going to fail, and we did that.  The department has accepted our methodologies, and we will probably be putting those methodologies in place when we are evaluating the high-level waste facility at the Waste Treatment Plant. It's not something that was just an academic study. It is something we will use. Further, we did two years of testing down at Southwest Research in Texas to try to correlate what we were seeing in the test versus what we were evaluating. I really think that is the thing I'm most proud of.

JW: What would you say are the most challenging parts of working within your specialty?

JM: It's trying to anticipate the next major issue, and that's going to sound strange.  I worked in the nuclear power industry, and I still, to some extent, work in that industry because I am on the ASME boiler and pressure vessel Code Committee for Nuclear Components, which is Section III. What we found was that from about the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, every three years, there was some new technical issue that would come up.

For example, in the mid-1980s, it was intergranular stress corrosion cracking certain types of stainless-steel materials under reactor water chemical attack. We had to replace a lot of pipe and had to evaluate it. In the early 2000s, service water piping that was buried was being heavily attacked by microbes and chemicals in the ground. No matter how much you tried to coat it, all you needed was a little scratch in the coating, and that would allow the groundwater chemicals to attack the surface because most of it was carbon steel. So, challenging aspect, is what's the next big thing, and I'm not sure I know what it is right now.

JW: How did you develop an interest in your field? What type of training did you do to become this type of technical specialist?

JM: It’s really interesting, even growing up, I was always interested in structural aspects of things, mostly, why did they fail? How did they fail? And so, in college I focused on courses along those lines. It's structural courses, strength of materials, dynamics courses, and then in graduate school, my master’s degree in applied mechanics. So, it fostered a sense of how do things work, how did and why did they fail structurally—not why doesn't the machine work? What are the forces and moments on it, and how are they applied? And the beauty is, as you work with this, you start to learn about materials. And I'm by no means a materials expert, but you learn more about it. You find the materials are fascinating.

JW: John, over your 50 years of experience, how would you say you specifically have made an influence in the pressure vessels and piping field, and what contributions have you made externally to Bechtel?

JM: I had to think about this for a while because I've been part of codes and standards since the late 1980s, and that's where to me, I believe I have the biggest impact outside of Bechtel . We wrote a number of papers on hydrogen detonation, but that was, a 10-year period. Codes and standards have been something going on for the last 30 years. The thing I'm probably proudest of is, as I said earlier, back around 2005-2006, buried service water piping was becoming a major issue for nuclear power plants because of degradation both internally and externally. Two utilities came up with a way to solve this by using a new material called high density polyethylene, HDPE, plastic pipe. Well, plastic pipe is great, it’s almost impervious to attack by the chemicals and microbes that are in the water and in the soil. It’s chemically inert; it’s pretty good stuff. However, it’s not very strong, so to use it above ground you would need supports for the piping very close together, but below ground, buried, it's perfect. I chaired the committee that ultimately developed a fledgling set of rules into what is now Appendix XXVI of Section III. It's a full set of rules to use for materials, examination testing for high density polyethylene piping. I didn't write the original, but we took the original, which was about 8 or 9 pages, and we expanded it to cover everything and worked with the NRC to make sure they were comfortable with what we developed. I'd have to say I'm all the things I've done on codes and standards. I'm probably the most proud of that, simply because I believe it really can help not only the nuclear industry, but other industries. For example, we actually wound up using that set of rules at the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge because they have buried high density polyethylene, fire water pipe and that's another place where it can be used quite a bit.

JW: Thank you for that, John. That concludes our interview. Thank you so much for sitting down with us today.

JM: Oh, you're welcome. It really was my pleasure.

JW: To our listeners, be sure to subscribe to our Insights blog today to be alerted when future episodes of our BechTech podcast are released.

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