Speech at the Canadian Building Trades Unions’ 2014 Legislative Conference

May 7, 2014

Speech by Dr. John Barrett, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
at the Canadian Building Trades Unions’ 2014 Legislative Conference
May 7, 2014

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today – and for allowing me to describe the areas where the building trades and the nuclear industry can work together for many years to come.

Je vous remercie de m’avoir invité à prendre la parole devant vous aujourd’hui – et de me permettre de décrire les domaines où les travailleurs de la construction et l’industrie nucléaire pourront collaborer pendant de nombreuses années à venir.

The Canadian nuclear industry and organized labour have been partners for many years in the pursuit of technology that contributes to the quality of life enjoyed by Canadians.

The Canadian Nuclear Association has approximately 100 member companies, representing over 60,000 Canadians employed directly or indirectly in exploring and mining uranium, generating electricity, and advancing nuclear medicine and cancer treatment.

We proudly count the Power Workers Union and the Canadian Nuclear Workers Council as members of the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Since joining the CNA last fall, I have met many industry participants. Often the discussion turns to jobs.

Increasingly, we’re focusing on the significant economic benefits that come from investment in a clean energy future. A future which should – and must – include nuclear, since nuclear ranks among the cleanest generators of electricity, with zero greenhouse gas and polluting emissions.

As I mentioned, the nuclear industry is a significant employer, with 60,000 Canadians on the payrolls of nuclear firms and their suppliers. The jobs are stable, long-term, and high wage.

Here’s the good news. The industry is about to create thousands more jobs. Ten nuclear reactors in Ontario are due for mid-life updates, or refurbishment, which will extend their operating lives by 30 years.

According to a study by Canada’s Manufacturers and Exporters, the refurbishment project will put an additional $12 billion dollars into workers’ pockets, in a wide variety of skilled trades.

Let’s look at this project and appreciate its challenges.

Each of the reactors must be opened up right to the core where the nuclear fission reaction takes place.

Here we find 480 pressure tubes, which house bundles of uranium pellets. Each pressure tube will be replaced. As well, the pipes that deliver and remove water to those tubes must also be replaced. It’s very much precision work.

Today the two utilities, OPG and Bruce Power, are completing the definition phase of their project plans. OPG will rebuild four reactors at the Darlington generating station. Bruce Power will rebuild six reactors.

The work will begin late in 2016. OPG expects to take three years per reactor and to complete its share of the project within ten years. Bruce, with six reactors rather than four, expects work to finish in fifteen years.

What will this cost? Again referring to our colleagues at the C-M-E, each reactor should require a $2.5 billion investment. Of that, roughly half will be paid to labour and half for materials and supplies.

The labour component represents about 6,500 person years of employment per reactor.

Across all ten reactors, then, the outlay amounts to $25 billion, with roughly $12 billion paid to labour in return for 65,000 person-years of work.

I call that good news.

Like any other major infrastructure project, refurbishment presents risks in project management. The main challenge will be to avoid cost overruns and schedule delays.

To this end, OPG and Bruce Power will apply the lessons learned from previous projects. Bruce Power has already refurbished two reactors. New Brunswick Power recently refurbished the Point Lepreau reactor, near Saint John.

And the Wolsong One CANDU reactor in South Korea has been retuned and restarted successfully.

The lessons learned from these projects give us confidence that the industry can deliver the Ontario refurbishment projects as planned.

It’s essential that we do just that.

We often hear in the nuclear industry that we shouldn’t be trusted with new investments, given the cost overruns in previous projects.

The Ontario government makes clear in its Long-Term Energy Plan that it is prepared to support all ten reactor refurbishments. But it has also built in what it calls “off ramps.” If refurbishment costs suddenly rise, or aren’t kept on their critical paths, the province is prepared to cancel refurbishments and obtain electricity elsewhere.

In short, refurbishment amounts not only to a major economic project but also to a critical credibility test for the Canadian nuclear industry.

The good news is that our industry has learned from its experience, and is drawing on those lessons as we push forward with refurbishment.

Not only will we retain the confidence of the Ontario government, but we will also develop a focused, efficient work force whose skills and knowledge can be applied in other projects beyond Ontario.

Are there opportunities beyond Ontario? Yes, certainly. Today about 30 countries are nuclear-powered.

Nuclear energy provides about 15% of the world’s electricity. And as world electrical demand rises, so too does demand for electricity, and nuclear generation.

Many developing countries faced with the challenge of providing electricity to growing populations are looking to nuclear because of its long-term reliability, its ability to generate massive amounts of power, and its virtue as a source of clean energy.

A nuclear power plant emits zero greenhouse gases, which means today’s nuclear investor gets both economic and environmental benefits.

According to the World Nuclear Association, today about 20 countries are considering joining the nuclear club. Already 71 reactors are under construction around the world, including 5 in the United States and 1 in the United Kingdom. Financing and approvals have been obtained for a further 138 reactors.

Clearly, there are opportunities ahead for the skilled trades in building and rebuilding the global fleet. Nuclear reactors based on CANDU technology operate today in China, South Korea, Argentina, Romania, India and Pakistan. Their track record is excellent.

Last month the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries led a trade mission to China. This is nuclear’s largest market. China has 21 reactors under construction today with a further 57 planned.

We look forward to picking up some of that business for Canadian nuclear workers.

Finally, a few words about ensuring that we have people with the right skills to support the nuclear industry as well as enjoy the benefits of working in this well-paid sector.

At our recent annual CNA conference in February, we created a workshop with the Building Trades Unions which brought skills-track students from Ottawa high schools to participate in equipment simulations.

Since nuclear infrastructure projects create thousands of jobs at a time, one of our biggest responsibilities as an industry is to ensure that we have all the properly trained people right here on home soil.

That is why the conference’s theme was “Developing the Next Generation”. Our speakers, experts and participants focused almost exclusively on how to encourage the development of the right skills to take our industry into the future.

To sum up: I’ve talked about the nuclear industry’s considerable contribution to stable, high-quality, long-term employment in Canada.

I’ve also talked about the contribution that Ontario’s refurbishment program will deliver — thousands of jobs lasting ten to 15 years in the OPG and Bruce Power projects.

And I’ve pointed to the growing opportunities in the global nuclear marketplace.

All in all, it’s an excellent time to be in the building trades and be part of the nuclear industry in Canada.

I offer my congratulations on your excellent conference. Thank you for your attention.

Je vous félicite pour votre excellente conférence. Merci de votre attention.

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