As an NPPD Human Resources representative, I recently traveled to Kewaunee, Wisconsin to recruit experienced nuclear professionals to come and work at NPPD’s Cooper Nuclear Station. Kewaunee Nuclear Plant is similar to Cooper in a couple of ways. It is a single unit 556-megawatt pressurized water reactor perched on the shore of Lake Michigan, and it was commissioned on June 16, 1974, a mere 14 days before Cooper Nuclear Station began its first day of commercial operations.
Up until a few years ago, Kewaunee was considered a well-run power plant industry-wide, and was viewed among the most safe and reliable plants by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
So what could prompt Kewaunee’s owners to announce in October of 2012 that they would shut down and decommission the plant?
So what could prompt Kewaunee’s owners to announce in October of 2012 that they would shut down and decommission the plant? The answer is simple: Economics. Kewaunee was simply no longer profitable for its private owners, and there didn’t appear to be any solution in sight that could stop the flow of red ink.
Driving to the facility was beautiful, and I felt pangs of jealousy for folks who could park right on the lake every day. Inside the plant, however, employees grieved for the loss of their jobs and their workplace. They spoke of a work culture that in many ways seemed eerily similar to Cooper’s. They told about their Kewaunee family and how they enjoyed working alongside the people of the community they shared. They spoke of difficult times they had persevered through together, of the challenging, yet rewarding life of a nuclear worker. They spoke of the disbelief that this could happen to them, to their families, to their community; a community that historically depended upon Kewaunee employees to sustain itself.
After all resumes were submitted and Kewaunee employees had filtered through the interview process, I wandered through the facility. Brand new cubicles and offices with beautiful views sat empty, dark and abandoned. The site itself had an eerie silence to it; the switchyard, still.
I realized that as time passed, the memories and accomplishments of those employees would become as distant and blurry as the tiny boats just visible on the distant, blue, Lake Michigan horizon.
As I boarded a flight back to Nebraska, I thought achingly of the people losing their jobs. Some had never worked anywhere else. I remembered the many picturesque farms in Wisconsin I had driven past and how similar the landscape was to Nebraska’s. It caused me to pause and consider the unthinkable. Could what happened to Kewaunee happen at Cooper Nuclear Station?
It was a light-bulb moment for me. Suddenly all the steps we take – the lengths we go to – to try to save money and keep costs low for our ratepayers as a not-for-profit, public power utility hit home and became very personal. If we don’t do those things, Kewaunee’s fate could be ours!
If we don’t do those things, Kewaunee’s fate could be ours!
At NPPD, we feel a deep sense of pride when we see our orange bumpers come down the road, because we know that we provide great service and a dependable product to the people of Nebraska at a fair price. We also know that we never stop looking for opportunities to make ourselves better, to make ourselves more competitive.
I returned home with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to make sure that Kewaunee’s fate would not be Cooper’s. I silently made a personal commitment to myself to do my part to help Cooper Nuclear Station and NPPD continue to remain a low-cost provider of electricity to our customers.