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Are nuclear jobs good jobs?

September 10, 2015

When Jo-Anne Usher took a job as a clerical worker at the Darlington Nuclear Station in 1989, her father was scared. “Dad said to stay out of the plant, but the plant was the first place I wanted to go,” says Ms. Usher, who came from a family of auto workers. “He didn’t understand the training I was getting. But over time, I was able to show him that working at the plant was safer than in the auto industry.” Ms. Usher went on to have a long and fulfilling career, and retired in March 2015.

Long-lasting jobs are an industry hallmark. Large projects such as the refurbishment of 10 nuclear reactors in Ontario are expected to employ 10,000 people for about 11 years. The plants themselves employ thousands more, and will keep doing so for decades.

Working for decades in one industry doesn’t mean it will be dull, Ms. Usher points out. “It’s a great place to work, with great money, and you can always move around.” And move around she did. As a civil maintainer, she was sweeping floors when she started, but moved on to fuel handling and radiation decontamination, and finally to maintenance and renovations to plant systems. Along the way, she got involved in groups such as a Women in Nuclear and the Canadian Nuclear Workers’ Council, meeting other nuclear workers in Canada and overseas. She was also a steward for the Power Workers’ Union (PWU) for much of her career.

The Usher family eventually came to support Jo-Anne’s decision, and even follow suit, as her daughter became an operator at the Pickering power plant.

Yet there is at least one four-generation “nuclear family.”

Larry Alderdice is a Mechanical Maintainer and PWU Chief Steward at the Bruce Power Plant, in his 30th year there. His grandfather was a tradesperson at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Both his parents worked at the first Canadian nuclear power reactor. And his wife works as an administrative assistant at Bruce Power. Both his daughter and her fiancé also work at the plant.


Mr. Alderdice began his career in mechanical maintenance at Bruce, became involved in the Power Workers’ Union in the early nineties, and was elected to the union’s board as sector representative in 2004. Over this time, he’s seen a lot of change, such as the transfer of ownership of the plant and the refurbishment of two of its reactors. Through these changes, he says, the presence of a union is a stabilizing factor. “We position ourselves to allow those things to be successful over the next 30 or 40 years,” he notes.

And the arrangement works for Larry Alderdice too. “The industry’s done very good things for my family, going back to my grandfather,” he says. “This is a nice place to live. It’s a small town but it has all the amenities. And the industry is professional enough to allow some of its profit to come back to its members.” He looks forward to the refurbishment project, and hopes to be involved in it before he retires, especially as it will lead to more jobs for another generation of nuclear workers.

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