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Vermont Yankee

Yankee workers highly trained, mobile

About 30% live in Massachusetts

VERNON, Vt. — The mood was fine at Vermont Yankee until about 8:30 Tuesday morning.

That’s when Francis Ryan of Colrain, and his workers, along with the rest of the 630 people employed at the nuclear power plant, were told that the facility would close next year.

“There were a lot of upset people,” said Ryan. “Some of the younger guys’ wives just had babies, they were saying ‘oh my God, what do we do now?’”

Ryan is a supervisor in the instrumentation and controls department of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. He said that many of the workers at the 41-year-old plant are in their 30s or younger, since many of the original workers have since retired.

Ryan has worked there since 1992, and has 15 people working under him, about four of whom live in Franklin County. He estimated that 30 percent of the plant’s workforce lives in Massachusetts.

Though emotions were high Tuesday, Ryan expects that people will calm down as the week goes on.

“I think when reality sets in, they’ll realize they still have a job for the next year, and there’s time to figure out what they’ll do next,” said Ryan.

Many of them could stay in the industry, said Ryan, whether they find themselves at one of parent company Entergy’s other nine nuclear plants, or at another nuclear site.

“I talked to a few guys who said they’d already received calls from headhunters looking to hire people” for nuclear power plants, Ryan added.

“It’s a very competitive industry for the workforce, especially the licensed plant operators,” he explained. “A lot of them will be able to go somewhere else and name their prices.”

“The qualifications (for work) are pretty much transferable,” he continued. “You just need to learn the plant-specific stuff when you get to a new plant.”

Ryan transferred to Vermont Yankee from the former Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station when it closed in 1992. He said that, out of 350 employees at the former Rowe plant, only 17 didn’t find work after its closure.

It’s a lot more cost-effective for nuclear power plants to hire people who have already been trained.

“Typical training for a new hire involves a year in the classroom before they enter the field,” Ryan said. “It’s a big investment for the company to hire new people.”

Ryan said many people have gotten their training from Vermont Yankee, put in two or three years at the plant, and took their skills to other plants.

Though Tuesday’s announcement was a shock to many, Ryan said the writing had been on the wall for some time. Prices for electricity produced by natural gas and other means have gotten so low, he said, it’s hard for nuclear plants to compete in the energy market.

While many of the workers at Vermont Yankee may be readying their resumes to send to other nuclear plants, Ryan won’t likely be among them. He has one year left until he reaches the minimum age for retirement, 55, and has enough time to do so before the plant closes.

Still, he doesn’t plan on fully retiring.

“I’ve been thinking about a change in careers,” he said. “I was on-loan to the company’s training department for five years. I taught electronics and control systems, and I got to like it. I may go into teaching.”

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