Bruce Power has scaled back the number of people at its site by three-quarters from peak operation, while also performing only essential work on the nuclear plant’s major component replacement project, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The priority of the site is to minimize the number of employees working within the facility while maintaining safe, reliable operations and completing essential plant maintenance and inspections,” the company said in a statement.
Bruce Power supplies about one-third of Ontario’s electricity.
Between 1,000 and 1,500 people still work on-site in total for all shifts, while 2,832 people work remotely, James Scongack, Bruce Power’s executive vice-president, said Wednesday in an interview. At its peak, 6,000 people work there, he said.
He said Bruce Power established a team in February that tried to anticipate the arrival of the pandemic and public health restrictions. It established escalating steps to ensure the plant continues to operate safely and reliably, he said.
“We have various severity levels that we can step up to and plans in place in which if we had a worker that was unavailable . . . that we would be able to manage within that complement,” Scongack said.
All staff arriving on site have their temperature taken and a medical app given to all staff offers advice and information in hopes of limiting calls to family doctors. A culture of social distancing and hand-washing is expected to be continued outside of work.
Scongack said infection mitigation precautions are at a hospital standard. Public health inspectors will walk through the plant Monday to offer any further advice, he said.
In the community, the company held a telephone town hall broadcast on March 19, which shared information about pandemic best practices and boosted public health messaging. Another is planned in the coming weeks, he said.
Bruce Power announced Wednesday $300,000 for Grey, Bruce and Huron County food banks, and authorized community groups that benefit from its $2 million in annual donations to use their money on COVID-19 measures as they see fit.
It’s also been sharing its supplies of N95 masks, safety goggles and such as its supplies allow.
Bruce Power’s life-extension program began in 2016. The next big stage of the program began in January with a focus on replacement of major components in Units 3-8, starting with Unit 6 at Bruce B generating station.
That work “will be narrowed to essential tasks related to plant safety and system integrity,” the company statement said.
Before COVID-19, the MCR project was on schedule, Scongack said Wednesday.
“It’s not viable to progress the major component replacement on the same construct that was in (place) pre-COVID-19,” he said. “Obviously we’ve reduced the number of people working on that project to support social distancing, minimizing the number of people on the station.”
He declined to estimate when the project would resume in earnest. “The top priority right now on-site is protecting employees, maintaining reliable operations and also setting ourselves up for the long-term.”
According to Bruce Power, expanding the life of the Bruce Power site until 2064 will result in an annual injection of $4 billion into Ontario’s economy while creating and sustaining 22,000 jobs across the province each year.
The company also said the plant will continue to maintain the supply of Cobalt-60 for sterilization of medical equipment amid the COVID-19 restrictions.
The collective agreements of the Power Workers’ Union and the Society of United Professionals have a no-layoff clause, company spokesman John Peevers said in a recent interview.
The company announced on March 13 that it closed its visitor centre and cancelled its March Break programming, among other steps due to the virus pandemic.
If people at the plant have been outside of the country or feeling symptoms they’re advised to self-isolate for 14 days. Enhanced cleaning, social distancing and personal hygiene are required by the company, as recommended by health officials.