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Millwrights prepare for the future as SMR projects gain traction

Grant Cameron
Millwrights prepare for the future as SMR projects gain traction

Millwrights across Ontario are being prepared for future job opportunities related to the game-changing Xe-100 Small Modular Reactor (SMR) that has been developed and is being rolled out by X-energy Canada.

The Millwright Regional Council (MRC) of Ontario, which comprises eight affiliated locals in the province, and the company have signed a memorandum of understanding to increase awareness of the reactor and training opportunities the technology could create for the skilled trades membership.

The millwrights are hoping the partnership will attract more Indigenous people, women and youth to the trade and the technology will help support a successful transition to a net-zero economy.

“The MRC is interested in a forward-looking approach to the construction, installation and maintenance of small modular reactors,” says Mark Beardsworth, executive secretary-treasurer of the council. “The goal of a net-zero economy will only be achieved if we work collaboratively with leading organizations with a common interest in improving performance in this area.

“By collaborating with X-energy, we aim to develop early learning and training opportunities to MRC’s membership. We will be more prepared to perform well when needed and therefore improve the results of the project.”

Earlier this year, Ontario Power Generation announced a collaboration with X-energy to pursue clean energy opportunities that will reduce heavy industry carbon emissions and identify more opportunities throughout Canada to bring the reactors to more industrial sites.

The Xe-100 is a high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor designed on decades of research, development and operating experience. The technology is scalable to meet demand, with one unit generating up to 80 megawatts of electricity from 200 megawatts of thermal power. Efficiently combining high-temperature 565 C steam and power production, the Xe-100 can directly support heavy industry, including oilsands operations, mining applications and other industrial processes.

Beardsworth says there is good synergy between the company and MRC as both are dedicated to meeting the climate goals set out by government and are very conscious of what needs to happen in order for those goals to be reached.

“We have had many fruitful discussions around the path we need to travel and what our next steps need to be on the journey. The development of the future SMR workforce is a necessary step in that journey and a central focus of both MRC and X-energy.”

MRC and X-energy are committed to looking for opportunities to optimize performance by creating awareness and potential training opportunities that focus on the technology, primarily the Xe-100 platform.

The MRC is already actively recruiting in many areas.

“Our recruitment strategy is strong, and we continue to meet our annual goals that have been set,” Beardsworth notes. “We will work closely with X-energy, who shares this focus on increasing access and inclusion, and search out further areas of interest for hiring.”

According to the MRC, recruiting the next generation of workers is critical due to an anticipated wave of retirements.

BuildForce Canada has indicated the construction industry must recruit 309,000 new construction workers by 2030, as 259,100 workers, or 22 per cent of the labour force, are set to retire.

“We continue to measure all areas with our membership from apprentices to available workers to local average age of memberships to upcoming potential retirements,” says Beardsworth.

“The monitoring of these areas is not new for us and with quality information provided surrounding upcoming work coming down the pipeline we can all be successful in getting prepared.”

He notes the focus on safety is paramount in both the construction and nuclear industries — and it has to remain a priority — so it is important that the MRC be involved in the early stages of the Xe-100 rollout.

“The technology in today’s work is advancing which requires us to look at evolving training to meet the needs. This is one of the reasons why this relationship with X-energy is so important as it provides an opportunity to get in early and look at possible opportunities for efficiency gains during the construction, installation or maintenance programs for their innovative technology.

“We have not historically been ahead of this in concept, but we are now positioned to improve in this area.”

Katherine Moshonas Cole, president of X-energy Canada, says the company is delighted to expand its relationship with the MRC and collaborate to help prepare its members for opportunities in the SMR workforce.

She says the company’s collaboration with the MRC will identify local opportunities that will pave the way for the successful delivery of future SMRs in Ontario and beyond.

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