Indigenous millwrights charting their careers through OPG’s Darlington Refurbishment

By Paul Choi

Two Indigenous millwrights who got their start through OPG’s Indigenous Opportunities Network (ION) are now advancing their careers through the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s Refurbishment project.

Both Sean Veinot and Sawyer Wilson have been involved in various aspects of the project, including Unit 3’s successful return to service in July, months ahead of schedule, and Unit 1’s disassembly.

Both credit ION with helping them get to where they are today.

The program recruits and places skilled and qualified members from Indigenous communities in jobs within the nuclear and energy industries, including at OPG, union halls, and vendor partners. Since 2018, more than 100 Indigenous candidates have found employment through ION.

Wilson, who previously worked in landscaping, got connected with ION through his home community of Alderville First Nation. Meanwhile, Veinot, a former pipeline operator in northern B.C., was introduced to ION while training to be a firefighter in Durham Region after making the move to Ontario.

“I didn’t have a lot of experience in the trades before this. But I was quickly brought up to speed,” said Wilson, who was enrolled in the Introduction to Millwrighting training program, a specialized six-week course hosted at Darlington and created by the Millwright Regional Council. “I’ve only been at the Darlington plant for about three months, but all the training, instruction, mentorship, and guidance I’ve received has been a huge help.”

Veinot, who has a few more years of experience in nuclear, started his career as a millwright at Pickering Nuclear before coming over to the Darlington Refurbishment project with E.S. Fox.

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“This is a great sector to be in right now,” said Veinot, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Indigenous Peoples. His brother, a nuclear engineer working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, recommended nuclear as a good career path to get into. “Just being part of clean energy and a part of the solution for the future is a great feeling.”

One of his most recent memorable achievements was being part of the team to get Darlington’s Unit 3 re-connected to the grid on July 17, almost six months ahead of schedule. Another memorable job was helping to shift fuel channels back into place at Pickering Nuclear.

Wilson, who is just getting his feet wet in the industry, is currently helping to remove horizontal flux detectors on Darlington’s Unit 1, part of the reactor’s safety system. As his first real job in the industry, he says the experience is “opening up the door to everything here.”

Millwrights like Veinot and Wilson are in high demand across the energy sector, particularly with ongoing refurbishment projects across the nuclear space. Highly trained millwrights install, maintain, diagnose, and repair various industrial and mechanical equipment – from pumps and conveyors to steam turbines.

The need for millwrights, and skilled trades in general, is only expected to grow in the years ahead as more clean energy projects, including OPG’s planned fleet of Small Modular Reactors at Darlington, get underway.

“It can be a bit intimidating at first to get your foot into nuclear,” said Veinot. “But you receive a lot of mentorship and support, and everyone wants to ensure you are succeeding. Plus, OPG is one of the safest places to work in Canada. The people here are very professional and safe.”

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Wilson agrees, adding that Indigenous workers thinking about making the move into the trades and nuclear should take the plunge.

“Even if you feel like you’re not experienced in the trade you’re getting into, the ION program does a great job of preparing you for your future,” he said.

“Also, just having the general foreman, supervisor, journeymen, higher-up apprentices, and others who have more knowledge than you is a huge help. Instead of feeling like you have to wait to ask questions, they make sure you have the answers you need to do the work properly.”

This article is reprinted with the permission of Ontario Power Generation.

Paul Choi is a senior communications advisor at Ontario Power Generation.

[This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 edition of ReNew Canada]

Featured image: Millwright apprentices Sean Veinot (left) and Sawyer Wilson—employed with OPG vendor E.S. Fox—are advancing their careers through the Darlington Nuclear Refurbishment project. (OPG)


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