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Nuclear plant operators pay high costs to keep their expert employees

Nuclear plant operators find that money talks in turbulent times. By Cole Epley / World-Herald staff writer , 6 Nov 16 

Even though a shuttered nuclear plant is no longer producing electricity, it remains highly regulated to maintain safety for employees and nearby communities. When employees start heading for the exits, plant owners risk seeing institutional knowledge leave with them.

That’s what happened earlier this year at the financially squeezed James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in central New York, after Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. announced plans in November 2015 to shut down the plant for good.

By the time jockeying by New York lawmakers and deal-making with nuclear juggernaut Exelon Corp. removed the plant from a list of doomed facilities in early August, more than 10 percent of FitzPatrick’s 615 workers had jumped ship.

 A similar portion of Fort Calhoun’s workforce has followed suit, according to Mart Sedky, Omaha Public Power District’s division manager of human resources. Employees there began leaving as soon as word got out in May that the plant, the nation’s smallest, was on the chopping block, she said.

David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group, said retention bonuses are a “guard against” such rushes for the exits.

“If people start bailing out because they see the writing on the wall and they want to protect themselves and their families, that poses a challenge to the plant owner,” he said.

Early estimates call for about $45 million worth of retention bonuses and separation packages to Fort Calhoun employees. That number doesn’t include salaries at the plant, which had a $71.2 million payroll in 2015.

A spokeswoman at Entergy would not comment on retention agreements at the FitzPatrick plant in New York. But the company committed approximately $55 million to $60 million in severance and employee retention payments to employees at its now-closed Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in southern Vermont, according to a statement from Entergy announcing the plant’s closing in August 2013.

Nuclear operators elsewhere have also found that money talks in turbulent times. Retention agreements kept nuclear professionals in place at the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin when that plant’s owner announced its closing in late 2012. A spokesman for Dominion Resources, which closed Kewaunee for good in May 2013, said financial details around retention agreements with the plant’s employees were proprietary.

Today there are fewer than 200 employees on-site, down from more than 600 when the plant was running at full-power status.

In testimony supporting a rate hike to the North Dakota Public Service Commission in August 2013, Xcel Energy’s Timothy O’Connor said the Minnesota company was thwarted in its attempts to attract employees from Kewaunee to its own struggling nuclear plant because of retention incentives.

“Employees without retention agreements are extremely vulnerable to other nuclear competitors and this is one reason why (Xcel) has lost a large experience base,” O’Connor, Xcel’s chief nuclear officer, said at the time.

Closer to home, such incentives helped Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville turn the corner when that plant’s fate was uncertain……

November 6, 2016 - Posted by | business and costs, USA

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