Thought Leadership

Resources for Ontario’s Nuclear Refurbishment – A Focus on Knowledge Workers

Category: Thought Leadership
N. Ryan Smith • November 2, 2018

Over the next decade and a half, Ontario will play host to not just one or two, but a total of 10 nuclear refurbishment projects.

Bruce Power is planning to refurbish six units between 2020 and 2033, starting with Unit 6’s breaker open milestone just over a year away. Work has already begun on Ontario Power Generation’s planned refurbishment of four units at Darlington, with Unit 2 well underway and Unit 3 planning progressing.

Oh yes – and there are billions of dollars in sustaining capital projects and maintenance outages planned at both sites to ensure that while the refurbishments are underway, the operating units keep pumping out the megawatts safely and efficiently.

It’s a monumental task worthy of the $30 billion+ price tag that comes along with it, and when executed – if executed well – it will be worth every penny.

To ensure success, Ontario’s government has tasked Bruce and OPG with working together to complete their refurbishments. This has been going on for a while, and recently the organizations published a collaboration report, in which they detail their plans.

A graphic in the report provides a striking visual of the challenge, illustrating a time span stretching from 2016 to 2033. While Darlington’s Unit 2 is expected to be completed by 2020, that’s when the collective effort really ramps up – only two years from now. Two projects are scheduled to begin their refurbishments simultaneously that year, with a third joining mid-2021.

At the height of the projects, five units will be undergoing planning or execution phase work during 2023. If Darlington’s Unit 2 was our industry’s baby – well, just buckle up and strap your helmet on, because we’re about to have twins. Then triplets, quadruplets and more, and we’ve got to keep them all healthy and well looked-after without sacrificing quality.

The magnitude of this scope over this extended duration would be daunting enough by itself, involving incredible organizational stamina and continuity planning even if there was nothing else on the go. But these projects are taking place in an environment buzzing with infrastructure activity and a highly competitive global market for resources skilled in the unique culture and language of the nuclear industry.

These refurbishments are distinctive from a resource standpoint, as they will start with one generation of workers and end with a completely different generation of workers. Boomers have led it thus far, and Gen Y – coupled with a solid contingent of millennials – will finish it. Their values are different; their definition of meaningful, fulfilling work is different.

It’s a unique human resources challenge, because eventually the boomers aren’t going to want to do this anymore and, for many who have already experienced it, working to the bone on the planning and execution of just one unit is plenty, thank you very much.

I’ve seen firsthand the industry focus areas with some great initiatives underway, specifically working to unlock the huge potential of women in trades and STEM and engaging our labour partners and unions to increase the volume of skilled trades workers available. There are innovations underway to automate and simplify the tasks, so you need fewer humans to do the same work.

Great things are happening, but we need to cast a wider net.

In the nuclear business, we have CWPs – Comprehensive Work Packages – to get field work done. If you were to deconstruct a high-quality CWP into the disciplines that had to plan, prep, coordinate, and integrate their work to create it, you would see that it’s a huge effort. It Involves engineers, project controls professionals, project and risk management professionals, program and portfolio management staff, quality professionals, safety professionals, and business-savvy project folks, just to name a few.

A poorly built CWP is of no use to even the most qualified skilled tradesperson.

These skilled tradespeople need an infrastructure of their own to support them, and everyone involved must focus on making the frontline worker as effective as possible. They will need to come in to work in an environment that is being carefully planned and managed by skilled, experienced nuclear leaders and knowledge workers.

A wave is coming. Is Ontario ready?