Monthly Archives: July 2015


What’s it Like to Work Inside a Nuclear Power Plant?

The planned refurbishment of 10 of Ontario’s nuclear reactors is going to help keep electricity prices low in Ontario. It’s a big project that will take 15 years to roll out – and it’s expected to create more than 10,000 jobs, about 90% of them inside the province. But what kind of jobs are they?

Peter Weekes should know: he’s been at Bruce Power since 1977, and has worked on many of the key projects in running the plant. And the variety is something he likes. “Within the company, there’s a breadth of experience to be gained,” he says. “I’ve alternated my time between engineering, operations, and large projects.”Editorial - jobs

Some of those projects are the restarting of the Unit 1 and 2 reactors in 2012, and managing the replacement of steam generators for the upcoming refurbishment. He retired during the restart of Units 1 and 2, but loved the work so much that he came back the next day as a contractor. “I like working with the people, particularly in planning for the major component replacement for the refurbishment,” he says. “The people here want the refurbishment to go forward – we feel we’re contributing to the future, and we are. We’re extending the reactor’s life and making it better.”

One of the people he worked with throughout his career is his wife, Linda, who was involved in the restarting of Units 1 and 2, and in changing the reactors’ fuel channels. Peter says that she was the only woman in the engineering program at Queen’s in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “It’s come a long way since then,” he says. “It’s a very diverse workforce – gender-wise, ethnically, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.”

But that workforce still needs new talent, he says. “We need to get people into the front end of the chain, so that they’ll be experienced by the time they can lead the projects later on. I see a lot of people from the next generation working here, and it’s rewarding.”

One of that next generation is Matthew Saldanha, who joined Bruce Power in 2013. As a senior technical engineer officer, Matthew is part of a team that manages any design changes to the plant. He works with his mentors to ensure that the plants’ design integrity is kept intact. By doing this, the team is able to protect the stations’ assets and the public.

As a new recruit in the nuclear industry, Matthew says, “It was a little overwhelming, but I had my mentors, and worked with a good group around me. The learning curve was steep, but I wasn’t doing anything by myself.”

Matthew describes relations between the plant and nearby communities as very good. “Most people living in the town work at the plant, and in some way or another the plant touches everyone’s lives. It only brings positive things to this area,” he says. Peter agrees, noting that Bruce Power contributes to the community through social events such as beach parties and golf tournaments, and by supporting charities. And both are very comfortable living so close to the plant. “I would live right up against the fence if that’s where I had to be,” says Peter.

Matthew expects his stay near Bruce to be long too. “I see myself staying here, though probably not at the same job: there’s lots of room to move up, and the company is very receptive to that. I’d recommend it to anybody.” Peter says that the refurbishment has opened up new career opportunities. “I might not have recommended it ten years ago, because the industry had levelled off: plans for the next station after Darlington had been shelved. Now that we’re on the cusp of the refurbishments, I would certainly encourage people to get into the industry. This work will last another generation.”

And even after the refurbishments are done, the plants will keep running for decades, needing skilled people. According to Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, a single nuclear reactor employs about 640 people full-time, with great pay – and Ontario has 18 of these reactors.


Electrical Industry HR: The Award Goes to…

For Hollywood, awards season won’t arrive until early 2016, but in Toronto, in between the holiday party shuffle and shopping sprees, Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC) will honour the very best in the electricity sector.


On December 9th, EHRC will honour outstanding achievements in human resources at the 2015 HR Awards of Excellence at the St. Andrew’s Club (150 King St. W, Toronto)

Marking their 10th anniversary, the event will also take a look back on successes and the role of the EHRC.

Nominations are now open and being accepted in five categories:

-Leader of the Year Award. Honouring an individual who has made an outstanding contribution through leadership and people management

-Emerging Leader Award for early career professionals

-Innovation in HR Practices — Educational or Training Institutions

-Innovation in HR Practices — Employers

-Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Champion

Nominations are being accepted until August 14th, 2015. For more information and to submit a nomination go to

The list of registered partners includes OPG (Ontario Power Generation). New partners can sign up in three different partnership tiers.

For more information on how you can partner with this event and help make this anniversary one to remember, please visit



Risk and Large Infrastructure Projects

The Ontario government has decided that refurbishing 10 of the province’s 18 nuclear reactors is the best plan to ensure affordable and reliable electricity for decades to come. That’s largely because carbon-free nuclear electricity will still be less expensive than solar, wind, or gas – even with the cost of refurbishment factored in.

But opponents of the project ask: How much will that refurbishment really cost? Their concerns are founded on cost overruns in past refurbishment projects – and the fact that large infrastructure projects, from building bridges to hydro dams, have a tendency to run over budget.

However, a closer look at the causes of delays and budget overruns in such projects shows that the Ontario nuclear refurbishment is well positioned to finish on time and on budget.

The challenge of one-of-a-kind jobsEditorial - Infrastructure

The challenge with many large infrastructure projects is their uniqueness, which can lend itself to complexity. While some projects take advantage of improvements in materials or technology, these same factors also require new designs, more training, and more coordination among the people involved. This can add cost and time.

But this is also an opportunity. By learning from experience and applying ingenuity, some infrastructure operations eventually become almost routine. For example, in 2014, the City of Ottawa replaced its 2,100-tonne Lees Avenue overpass in a single night. A time-lapse video of the operation went viral.

What does this mean for refurbishment?

Refurbishing Ontario’s nuclear power plants won’t be as fast as replacing an overpass, but the engineering teams will be working with equipment that is well known, operating on principles that are thoroughly understood. This is not experimental, but an upgrade. And the teams taking on the job now have built up a lot of experience on accumulated industry know-how.

To begin with, Bruce Power has already refurbished two reactors. That project showed how the team learned: On the second reactor they refurbished, the team did several tasks much more quickly, replacing the second steam generator 57% faster than the first, and removing the second set of calandria tubes 77% faster than the first. Bruce Power then delivered another life-extension project on one of the reactors on time and budget, in 2011.

In the first refurbishment, the reactors had been offline for 17 years. It was like starting up a classic car that has been sitting in a garage – a really great car, but one that hadn’t been used. The engineers had to find out exactly what state the reactors were in first before going ahead with the overhaul. In contrast, the upcoming Bruce refurbishment is on reactors that are running now, and running well, so much of the planning is already done.

Every activity Bruce Power will have to do on the site is something it has done before. It’s familiar work. The refurbishment activities are focused on two key elements – replacing steam generators and re-tubing the reactor. Every activity needed to complete these has been tested and its scope defined.

Planning is also long underway at Darlington. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is on track to have all the required regulatory approvals, project contracts awarded, tools tested, staff trained and a detailed schedule and fully committed budget well before the project execution begins in 2016. According to OPG, “After six years of planning, extensive inspections and benchmarking, 40 years of operational and project management experience, and a ground-breaking nuclear training and testing facility … we’re ready for refurbishment.” In that testing facility, there is a full-scale mock-up of a Darlington reactor vault. It’s accurate right down to the exact bend in every pipe, with thousands of components. Every door, light, hallway, and overhead light is replicated. The mock-up will give OPG and contractors a chance to do each of the jobs they expect to do, and make sure they can do them right, before working on the actual reactor.

All systems go

The learning won’t stop once the refurbishment begins. Each system-focused team plans to take lessons from one refurbishment and apply them to the next. That’s one of the reasons why the 10 refurbishments will be spaced over 15 years.

The refurbishments also create opportunities to improve the plants’ systems and materials “while the car hood is up.” At Darlington, in addition to the removal and replacement of reactor components, the refurbishment also involves a tremendous amount of work to maintain, upgrade, and refurbish other important plant systems, such as the turbine and generator sets, fuel handling equipment, and other nuclear, conventional, and safety systems. And because the industry has learned a lot about how materials react to radiation since the Bruce Power station went online, the teams will be replacing some of the parts, such as the fuel channels and steam generators, with materials that are stronger, safer, and longer-lasting.

Finally, the Ontario government has ensured that the contracts will allow it to limit or even stop the refurbishments if they go over budget. That’s a serious incentive for the operators and contractors involved to stay on track.


The Future: No Doomsday Cult Required

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

DoomsdayMy adult son, who is a wise, reflective, intelligent and well-read man, recently shared with me his view of the world in a few decades. It was apocalyptic: dead oceans, cities run by criminal gangs… you get the idea. (He was trying to persuade me to retire early and enjoy life while I can).

Admittedly, there is reasonable evidence for his forecast. I happen to take a less pessimistic view. He and I don’t disagree much on facts, but rather on how we project them into the future.

I’m also more historically conscious: I’m more aware that it is not, and has never been, unusual to forecast that we are all doomed.

Doomsday predictions have been with us since ancient times. They are doubly useful. They employ fear to recruit believers into whatever religion we’re evangelizing. And they provide the satisfying glow of knowing what a terrible end awaits those who won’t join us and how they’ll realize, when that end comes, that we were right and they were wrong.

There is always evidence that can be pressed readily into service. Religious cultists generally point to society’s (always apparent) corruption and moral decline. Thomas Malthus noted the unrestrained fertility of the poor. Marx and the communist ideologues saw the clear drawbacks of industrial society, and predicted that capitalism would inevitably falter and collapse. 1960’s environmentalists overextended Rachel Carson’s solid, ground-breaking work on the effects of pesticides. The 1970’s resource-exhaustion panickers distorted the Limits to Growth report; they took commodity price spikes as proof that the world was running out of natural resources.

There’s a bit of moral superiority at work. Those who see the light, who invest in the new religion, are the wise and good. Those who don’t agree wholeheartedly with them are mentally and morally deficient. If they can’t be beaten in argument, at least they’ll see the error of their ways on judgment day.

These features have carried through from the ancient religious doomsday cults, to socialist ideologies, to present visions of Our Renewable Energy Future. The old system is doomed. The crash will come in our lifetimes (otherwise, why convert?). To save yourself and prosper in these dark times, you must commit to the new religion.

Belief in society’s moral decay gradually fused with belief in capitalism’s self-destruction, which apparently now has become belief in our biosphere’s demise. Indeed, the three have gotten quite muddled: consumerism is portrayed as a kind of moral and spiritual decay, which has been foisted on humanity by corporations. The system we’ve built is now destroying not just our souls, but itself and Mother Nature too. EarthTimeBomb

I realized this when listening to my son talk about the future: Our Renewable Energy Future is somehow mixed up with Original Sin, the population bomb, and the inevitable crash of the capitalist system. It’s repeatedly characterized as “inevitable,” the speed of its arrival is overestimated, and of course we can’t rely on failing corporate structures (or cities) to implement it. Somehow we’re all going to achieve it in small cooperative teams in the countryside.

There’s a lot of baggage here. But my son and I acknowledged it and got beyond it. And we continue to have the reasonable discussion we both want. It can be done.