The Canadian nuclear workforce is an impressive thing. Men and women in nuclear plants produce, in collaboration with superb management organizations, most of the electricity in Ontario, Canada’s largest province and most important economy. This workforce, again in collaboration with confident and strategically minded managers who had far-sighted vision and solid backbones, developed the mighty CANDU reactor, an amazing machine that technologically outmaneuvers the reactors of its bigger, deeper-pocketed, and better-connected U.S. competitors, whose benefactor—no less than the United States government—is the greatest superpower in history.
This was no small feat. The U.S. nuclear industry is the world standard, and grew during the Cold War with the backing of a government that possessed—and still possesses—unsurpassed marketing reach and clout. So for Canada to have invented a reactor that has competed so successfully against America’s best illustrates our world-class technological acumen. Canadians build and run nuclear reactors like we play hockey: like we are the best in the world.
That doesn’t mean all industry players sit cross-legged on the floor, hold hands, and sing “Kumbaya.” Like in hockey, there is a lot of internal competition in the nuclear sector, and a lot of conflict. That’s perfectly healthy. Over the years that conflict has manifested in labour strife: the people who design CANDUs have gone on strike against their employers—first Atomic Energy of Canada then SNC Lavalin—a number of times over the years. They are tough and confident, and so are their employers.
The latest eruption, between the main union, the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA) and the employer, CANDU Energy Inc. (a division of SNC Nuclear, which purchased CANDU from AECL last year), seems close, on this Tuesday August 28 2012, to ending. The union began labour action back in May; SNC announced a few minutes ago that it has settled with one of the bargaining units. The union corroborated this, also a few minutes ago. Hopefully the two parties can settle similarly, and soon, on the matter of the company’s dispute with the remaining SPEA bargaining unit.
When labour peace has returned to the Canadian nuclear industry, the industry can turn a unified effort toward an issue of paramount importance to Ontario, Canada, and the world: the Darlington B new build project. As I mentioned in “Nuclear management in Ontario” back in May, Canada’s nuclear sector is primed for a new build project. Management and the workforce have proved, over six major complex projects since 2003, that they are capable of bringing major power sources into the provincial grid, of working under the glare of the media spotlight with criticism flying at them from all angles.
Ontario needs this project to begin, as soon as possible. We will need the power when the reactors are finished and connected to the grid. We need the jobs this project will provide. Most of all, we need to show the world how to truly green the grid.
Game Day is looming. Like the minutes before a hockey game, you can feel the butterflies. Let’s get it started.