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Illinois Nuclear Plants
In the final days of 2016, Exelon posted 400 new job openings at the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear stations. Just a week prior, those plants were facing early retirement.
"This is definitely a 180 from where we were," said Springfield, Ill., Local 51 Assistant Business Manager John Johnson. Local 51 represents employees at the Clinton station, where Exelon is currently hiring for 50 bargaining unit positions, a 20 percent increase in membership, Johnson said.
When Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Future Energy Jobs Bill on Dec. 7, nuclear became valued as a clean energy source, akin to wind and solar, giving it a much-needed boost in the market. Without the bill, the plants had been unable to compete over the last seven years despite their high performance.
Downers Grove, Ill., Local 15 represents employees at the Quad Cities plant. Assistant Business Manager Bill Phillips says he hasn't heard yet how many jobs the local will get.
"Without a doubt, they'll fill a lot of positions," Phillips said. "That's good for the area."
Exelon plans to fast-track many of its capital projects, it said in a press release. The Quad Cities list includes a new venting system, computer upgrades and enhancements to the control room simulator, which is used to train reactor operators. At Clinton, there will be upgrades to the main generator, replacement of an auxiliary transformer and upgrades to a pump motor that controls water flow outside the reactor.
Some of that work will go to utility members at Local 15 and Local 51, but most will go to the building trades. For the Clinton projects, members of Decatur, Ill., Local 146 stand to benefit, though Business Manager Josh Sapp says it's too soon to say how much.
"We should know more in the new year, but it'll be good for us in any case," Sapp said. "Those jobs are really important, especially when the local is having a bad year."
In addition to the 400 jobs, which Exelon says will be permanent, there are also the 3,000-plus jobs that come up each year for refueling. Sapp says Local 146 usually sends about 100-200 people to Clinton for those outages. The next one is scheduled for 2017.
The jobs bill includes an education component, allotting $1 million a year for nine years for job training. Some of that will go to apprenticeships and some to solar-related training, said Chicago Local 134 Business Manager Don Finn, who lobbied for inclusion of the education funding in the bill.
Local 134's training facility includes instruction on multiple types of green energy work, and will likely train many of the men and women who will build Illinois' wind farms and solar arrays, Finn said. The bill also provides funding for renewable projects.
Illinois gets almost half of its energy — and about 90 percent of its clean energy — from nuclear. It's also an incredibly efficient and reliable baseload energy source. Even during the most extreme weather conditions, nuclear routinely operates above 90 percent capacity, according to Nuclear Matters.
"In terms of grid stability and clean energy benefits, nuclear is unmatched," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "We can't move forward with our clean energy goals, and keep the lights on, without it."