Union workers display their skills in making casks for Trojan 'hot' rods

RAINIER - Union workers put the finishing touches on the last of 34 stainless steel-lined concrete casks that will be used to store spent fuel rods at the shuttered Trojan Nuclear Power Plant.

A "topping-out" party Oct. 29 celebrated the project's completion - on time and under budget.

General contractor BNFL Fuel Solutions Corp. and subcontractor Power Maintenance Resources Inc., a subsidiary of North American Energy Services, hosted a prime rib luncheon for the work crew. The power plant, located 35 miles west of Portland along the Columbia River, is owned by Portland General Electric.

Trojan, which has been closed since 1993, has 781 spent fuel rods lying at the bottom of a 23-foot-deep pool of deionized, de-mineralized water. Those rods will now be placed inside the casks, each of which weighs nearly 200,000 pounds and is fabricated out of stainless steel and concrete (about seven truckloads each).

For at least the next 15 years the casks will sit atop an air-cushioned pedestal situated on a three-quarter acre pad in a corner of the 634-acre site. At some point the casks will be transported to a yet-to-be-developed federal nuclear repository, most likely in Nevada.

The project was delayed early this year while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) examined casks built by Trojan contractor Sierra Nuclear Corp. for nuclear plants in other states. Welds on those casks had cracked, prompting the NRC to threaten a ban on Sierra, reported the Longview Daily News.

During that process Sierra was purchased by British Nuclear Fuels and the ban was lifted. The resulting company - BNFL Fuel Solutions Corp. - was contracted to build the Trojan casks. BNFL has worked mostly non-union in other states, according to union officials, but had its eyes opened by the skills the union craftsmen brought to the project.

The first cask took 2,800 man-hours to complete, according to job superintendent Paul Haworth. By the time workers got to number 34 it was down to 440 man-hours. "We came in way under budget and tracked right on schedule," Haworth said.

Some material delivery problems early on were the only glitches on the job, the contractor said. "This gang (of Iron Workers, Cement Masons, Laborers, Operating Engineers and Carpenters) did an absolutely excellent job," Haworth said. "We couldn't be more pleased."

Jake Hardy, president and chief executive officer of Power Maintenance Resources Inc., credited the union workforce for making up time due to the material scheduling problem.

"After completing each cask the guys would come up with a better way of doing the next one, which cut the man-hours significantly," Hardy said. "We've had nothing but fantastic support from the workers, the unions and the building trades council."

Hardy said the company now plans to market its cask-building skills across the country. Next up is a project at Arkansas Nuclear One Power Plant, where BNFL and Power Maintenance Resources have the contract to build casks to store spent fuel rods there. The job will be done with an all-union workforce.

Several BNFL managers were on hand to watch the final casks being made. They included John Stender, division maintenance manager; Tom McNulty, project manager; and George Lambry, project engineer.

November 19, 1999 issue

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