Becoming A Nuclear Operator at OPG
It is important for us at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to provide you with a description of what you can expect to experience as a Nuclear Operator (NO). This document will provide you with a Realistic Job Preview (RJP).
The role has unique rewards and challenges. This RJP will provide up-to-date job information that pertains to all aspects of the job, including positive and the negative aspects.
It is important for you to read this entire RJP and to consider the entire scope of the job before applying. This will help ensure:
- A better fit between the applicant and the job
- Applicants hold a realistic expectation of the job and therefore, better job satisfaction
For further information or to contact OPG, please consult OPG’s recruitment website at:
Overview of the Hiring Process
“What can I expect when applying for the job?”
STEP 1: Job Posting
When a vacancy is advertised on mypowercareer.com, applicants are required to create their profile and submit an online application.
STEP 2: Eligibility Criteria Screen
Applicants are reviewed to determine if they meet base criteria. Applicants must be eligible to work in Canada and require one of the following:
- Grade 12 diploma from an Ontario Secondary School that includes Grade 12-U (university preparation) mathematics, physics or chemistry, and English, or Ontario Academic Course (OAC) credits in mathematics, physics or chemistry, and English as a minimum.
- An Ontario Secondary School (or equivalent) diploma plus completion of a College Technician or Technologist diploma in a related program is preferred. e.g., Power Engineering, Marine Engineering, etc.
STEP 3: Testing
- Qualified applicants may be invited to a testing session (2 to 3.5 hours in length), where they will complete a series of tests to assess areas such as critical reasoning, English skills, mechanical aptitude, and safety consciousness.
- Should you wish to practice some ability tests, please visit the please visit the SHL website at: http://www.shldirect.com/practice_tests.html
- Candidates need to pass these tests in accordance with the minimum criteria required for the job.
STEP 4: Interviews
- Candidates, who are successful at the testing phase, may be invited to attend a structured, behaviour and technical-based interview.
- The interview will consist of a series of job-related, structured questions. All candidates are asked the same questions and evaluated against the same job-related criteria.
- The questions are behaviour-based. For example, candidates are asked to provide examples of how they have dealt with various job-related or life scenarios in the past to demonstrate that they have the relevant experience and display the appropriate behaviours.
- The questions that are technical-based explore the candidates’ knowledge of science fundamentals and real world applications.
- Interviews are approximately 1 to 2 hours in length.
STEP 5: Short-listed Candidates
Short-listed Candidates Short-listed candidates will be notified of further selection requirements (e.g. providing references).
STEP 6: Offer of Employment
Upon completion of Steps 1 through 5, candidates deemed to be successful will be extended a conditional offer of employment. The offer is conditional upon:
- Obtaining a satisfactory security clearance, and
- Confirmation of your ability to carry out the essential duties of the role.
Life As a New Nuclear Operator
“What happens when I first start working at OPG?”
The following is a brief overview of the various specializations within the NO job family, including the orientation/ training process, and the probationary period.
Nuclear Operator Specialization Streams
There are several specializations within the NO job family, called “streams”. The Pickering facilities have three streams (see Table 1). The Darlington facility has four streams (see Table 1). Each new NO is assigned to one of these streams after being hired.
|Facility||Stream 1||Stream 2||Stream 3||Stream 4|
|Pickering A and B||Generating Units||*Common Services||Fuel Handling|
|Darlington||Generating Units||*Unit 0 (Zero)||Fuel Handling||Tritium Removal Facility|
*Note: Common Services and Unit 0 are similar jobs; any NOs working at or transferring to the Nuclear Waste Management facility at Pickering or Darlington would conduct other specialty job duties.
Upon being selected into the NO job, you will be placed in the stream specified by the posted vacancy. You can select a preference for a stream you would like to be certified in; preferences will be taken into consideration but cannot be guaranteed. In this RJP you will read a description of those aspects of the job that are common across all streams. When there are important differences between streams, those differences are bolded to bring them to your attention and help you identify your preferred stream.
Upon being selected by OPG, candidates begin general, followed by stream-specific, NO orientation and training. Successful training performance requires the ability to be self-directed in one’s training, to learn within short-time frames, and to absorb and relate classroom information to its practical application in the station.
Training Format and Content
NOs are required to complete extensive classroom and some computer-based training. Training focuses on both the aspects of the job that are common across all NO streams, and those that are specific to a particular stream. Periods of classroom courses are balanced with on-shift training. During on-shift training the trainee will work under the guidance of an experienced NO.
NOs typically take 8-12 months to complete general training. General training is followed by specific stream training. Depending on the stream, an additional 6-12 month training period will be required. Combined, training can take up to two years to complete.
Trainees are tested at every phase of the training program and at the end of the training period.
- Classroom knowledge is tested using exams.
- Applied knowledge is tested using Job Performance Measures (e.g., demonstrating proficiency in the field environment).
- A NO is considered to be “stream qualified” upon successful completion of comprehensive examinations, a series of Job Performance Measures and a competency assessment by their field supervisor.
The first three months of training are a “probationary period”. However, the probationary period may be extended to six months, if required.
Mandatory union coverage and access to OPG benefits are provided during the probationary period. Pension plan enrolment begins upon completion of the probationary period.
Overview of the Job
“What is the job?”
Below is a broad description of the duties and other characteristics (e.g., work schedule, work load) of the job. This overview is not meant to be exhaustive in its description; rather, the duties and characteristics described provide a summary of some of the key aspects of the job.
The following are some of the duties carried out by NO’s.
A significant portion of a NO’s duties involve performing rounds of their designated area within the plant to check the status of equipment and systems (e.g., pumps, fans, motors, gauges). This type of task requires NOs to detect and assess problems, and provide detailed information to assist Maintenance in repairing equipment (e.g., monitor system pressure, temperatures, water levels, check for leaks and check for the integrity of the equipment). While these tasks can be repetitive, they are important and require a specific skill set. Effective monitoring requires a high degree of precision, attention to detail and comfort with mechanical and electrical devices. Upon detecting a problem, a NO notifies his or her supervisor and documents the deficiency based on standard operating procedures.
Housekeeping and Documentation
Several hours in the day might be required to complete routine maintenance of equipment e.g., cleaning equipment, topping up oil levels tidying of assigned work area. Records of these duties are generated by activities such as initiating Work Requests and Material Requests, keeping Logs, and documenting corrections. Computer proficiency is required to complete the majority of these documentation tasks.
Proactive and Reactive Safety Consciousness
NOs are required to adhere to safety procedures at all times to proactively prevent workplace accidents, and protect both their own safety and the safety of others. Immediate action is required to isolate and contain any problem that may arise. Corrective actions required are typically quite simple, such as mopping a minor leak or isolating the faulty equipment. Effective corrective action requires familiarity with, and strict application of, the required safety procedures. Protective equipment and clothing are worn at all times to minimize the chances of exposure to hazardous materials (e.g., chemical or minimizing any radiation exposure).
Testing and Sampling
Frequently, NOs will be responsible for assisting with and testing the functionality of equipment.
- Example: Testing may involve local or remote manipulation of equipment like valves and the start-up/shut down of fans and pumps to simulate certain operating conditions or duty rotation of equipment. If deficiencies are identified, “Work Requests” need to be filed so Maintenance can repair the equipment.
- Example: NOs and chemical laboratory staff are involved in drawing samples. In some cases, after chemical technicians have conducted appropriate analyses, NOs may be required to initiate corrective action, such as adding chemicals to maintain system specifications.
Physically Intensive Duties
There are a number of physical tasks that are common to all NO streams, while other physical tasks are stream-specific. For instance:
- Fuel Handlers primary responsibility is to receive and load fuel into the new fuel loading mechanism. Remote operation of tools is used to move and store fuel that has been used in the reactor. This duty is unique to this stream of work. Although Fuel Handlers have direct contact with new fuel, risk from hazardous exposure is minimized because NOs wear appropriate protection and are kept away from areas where elevated hazardous conditions exist.
- Tritium Removal Facility Operators are frequently required to move heavy drums with a drum cart, moving equipment and preparing shipments for external use of product. They may be required to lift objects that weigh between 40 and 50lbs (i.e. a full pail of water)
Below are other important characteristics of the NO job.
There are several shifts at OPG; 8-hour shifts, 10-hour shifts, and rotating 12-hour shifts. NOs must be willing to do shift work and be flexible in their availability.
- Most NOs work in rotating 12-hour shifts that are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Some 8-hour/10-hour “day” shifts may also be required. Everyone is required to work weekdays, weekends and statutory holidays, as well as both day shifts and night shifts.
- A typical 12-hour shift includes 3 breaks and 2 lunch periods which are paid.
- It may be required of NOs to work an extra 15-20 minutes at the end of each shift. The extra time is necessary to pass on an update to the next NO about the area of responsibility status.
- Schedules are set one year in advance and are balanced over the course of the year to average 40 hours per week. Typically, a period of two to three day shifts or night shifts are followed by two to three days off.
Some of the NO duties involve repetitive tasks, but there is almost always variety. A NO’s typical day includes:
- pre-job brief;
- rounds and routines;
- equipment testing;
- work protection application;
- documentation activities;
- post-job brief; and
However, there are some differences in job variety across the various streams.
- Relative to other streams, the greatest variety is found in the Generating Unit stream. Opportunities for hands-on activities are moderate because the systems are highly automated during normal operation. During Outages, the physical demands and variety are extensive. The Generating Unit stream requires the greatest number of systems to be controlled.
- On the other hand, the Fuel Handling stream allows for more hands-on tasks, but has less variety due to the smaller number of systems they control.
- The Common Services/Unit-O or TRF streams provide a degree of variety that falls in between that of the Fuel Handling and Generating Unit streams. If the degree of variety on the job is important to you as a new NO, you should give consideration to the above information when deciding on which stream you would prefer; please remember your preference selection may not be guaranteed.
Discretion and Responsibility
NOs are responsible for the safety of personnel, the plant, the site and the community. As such, strict adherence to policies and procedures is required at all times. There is little discretion in the manner in which tasks get carried out.
NOs work alone when performing rounds and routines with the exception of a trainee shadowing them. Most other work is done in pairs where safety precautions deem it necessary or physical assistance is required.
NOs find the workload to be very manageable. NOs are assigned a set of tasks to complete by the end of the shift but may complete the tasks at their own pace, pending workload.
Training & Career Opportunities
“Do I need to keep learning? And, where can I go from here?”
Continuous Learning Requirements
Qualifications need to be renewed or refreshed continuously, depending on the task and stream. Qualifications can also be upgraded to broaden one’s skill set. NOs will need to monitor and manage their required training to maintain their qualifications.
Individuals can move to different positions at the same level in the organization (“lateral move”) or can move to higher positions at OPG (“vertical move”).
- Lateral moves typically involve obtaining a position in one of the other NO streams or moving elsewhere in the organization to non-Operator positions. Such moves will require retraining.
- NOs can move vertically into various supervisory positions, such as Supervising Nuclear Operator (SNO) positions or Field Shift-Operating Supervisor (FSOS) positions. Interested individuals go through a selection process in which the behaviours, qualifications and seniority of candidates are considered.
- If NOs would like to be considered for Authorized Nuclear Operator (ANO) positions or Certified U-0 Control Room Operator positions, working in the Generating Units or Unit-0 stream provides work opportunities most compatible with meeting that goal.
Compensation and Benefits
“Is it a well-paid job?”
Based on the collective agreement, compensation and benefits are competitive. Pay progression occurs annually until the maximum pay rate is achieved. It takes approximately eight years to qualify for the maximum pay rate. Economic increases are negotiated by the union. For those who have the skills, experience and ambition, there may be opportunity for promotions prior to achieving the maximum pay rate.
“How much supervision will I receive?”
Supervising Nuclear Operators and Field Shift Operating Supervisors are easily accessible at all times (e.g., via phone, radio or in-person), however, they do not constantly monitor the work of NOs. NOs are provided with a “pre-job” briefing; a brief meeting at the beginning of the shift detailing the activities requiring completion on the shift and any hazards associated with the work during that shift. With some exceptions, most of the time NOs can complete the work at their own pace.
Physical Working Conditions
“What is the physical work environment like?”
Below are details about the typical working conditions for NOs.
- NOs work indoors for the majority of their shift, in typically warm and dry conditions under artificial light. The exceptions to this are the Common Services/Unit 0 Operators, who may work indoors and/or outdoors.
- NOs may have to crawl into tight spaces, work in extreme temperatures and work in areas with high noise levels. All NOs will be working at significant heights (e.g., working on floors with gratings that have 30 feet drops under the gratings and working from elevated platforms). Unit 0 operators working in the pump house/screen house and sewage treatment facility will have to also deal with strong odours.
- NOs will be on their feet for the majority of their day, moving through large portions of the plant. Surveillance work requires walking around the Powerhouse or other support buildings, and climbing ladders and stairs. A NO on rounds and routines could expect to walk 8-12 kms per 12 hour shift.
- NOs work with equipment and/or containers that contain dangerous materials (e.g., radioactive materials). However, hazardous materials are contained and highly monitored, minimizing threat.
- NOs wear safety equipment and clothing at all times, and are required to wear additional/extra protective gear depending on the material being handled. Some of the equipment and clothing can be heavy or feel restrictive (e.g., plastic suits, respirators). NOs should be comfortable being restricted in this manner, sometimes for extended periods.
- • OPG has implemented highly secure locker room facilities, separated for men and women. Note that most NOs may be required to change into or out of their safety clothing frequently. Individuals will need to be/become comfortable disrobing in front of their same-sex colleagues because of non-partitioned same-sex locker room facilities.
- NOs cannot leave the protected plant area during their shift (e.g., leaving the plant site for lunch), as they must be available for response in case of emergency.
Working Conditions to meet Safety Requirements
- Working at heights, climbing up to a height of 40 feet, which could require the use of a safety harness;
- Climbing vertical ladders;
- Working on or above slotted gratings;
- Working in hot and/or cold environments;
- Working in confined spaces;
- Working with loud noise (hearing protection required);
- Working in areas that are slightly below atmospheric pressure (negative pressure containment); □ Working with ionizing radiation; □ Changing in and out of radiation protection clothing;
- Having to wear protective equipment (such as respirator use);
- Being clean shaven to allow for respirator use;
- Working rotating 12 hour shifts; includes weekends, statutory holidays, etc.;
- Wearing plastic suits, which limits the intake of food/water for up to 3 hours;
- No jewellery allowed for all electrical work; includes all piercings;
- Being able to hear emergency tones and respond as required;
- Being able to visually identify safety hazards and report them promptly;
- Being able to attend work physically/mentally fit to perform Operator duties;
Rewards and Challenges of Being a Nuclear Operator
“What do other NOs really think about the job?”
The NO position has some interesting and desirable aspects.
“The NO position has allowed me to be a better person, than what I was 25 years ago; starting as a Nuclear Operator, I worked my way up to the position of Field Shift Operating Supervisor by learning how to safely plan work, how to keep others safe from harm, the technical side of Nuclear Power Generation to produce electricity, how to be a great mentor, how to handle adversity, how to manage change, what it means to be a leader and how to be a better person every time I come to work; this career is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had; I look forward to coming to work and learning something new every day”.
OPG is highly safety conscious. Such a safety culture reduces the potential for any serious accidents.
“OPG has one the world’s best Safety philosophy and it’s embedded in all that we do; our policies and procedures are created with Health and Safety in mind. We pay close attention to Nuclear, Conventional and Environmental safety with every task we perform. From our experience, we work in the most safety conscious work environment in the world; we need to maintain focus, ensuring our own health and safety, the health and safety of our workers and that of the general public and our families. We need to ensure that they are always protected against harm by preventing accidents or events from occurring.”
NOs find the compensation and benefits to be competitive and very satisfactory.
Workload and Pace
The pace isn’t highly demanding or rushed. Mandatory overtime work is not required often. As such, the pace is appropriate to the workload.
Challenging or Unappealing Aspects
As with any job, there are aspects of the job that are less desirable or even negative in some cases, or have aspects that are challenging to manage. “For some, the most unappealing aspect of the Nuclear Operator position is working the 12 hour rotating shift. This type of shift challenges our physical/mental condition; it may take us away from our families, during times of celebration and participation in family functions. Although, it does have its Pros of financial incentives and more days off during a fiscal year, its Cons make the 12 hour shift challenging to navigate through.”
Switching between day and night shift can be both physically challenging and very disruptive to one’s personal life. A lot of time is spent physically recovering between shifts. Working weekends can also be difficult. It helps that schedules are set one year in advance, providing plenty of advance notice.
Lack of Variety
Some tasks are repetitive and monotonous, lacking in variety or challenge. The NO job is often restricted to problem detection rather than problem solving.
There can be delays in getting re-qualified because of labour shortages or because too many people need to be trained. Such delays can be frustrating.
Changes Slow to Institute
With a large organization such as OPG, sometimes it takes a long time to get equipment fixed or to institute changes. These delays can be frustrating.
Critical Success Factors
“What does it take to be a good NO?”
This RJP summarizes the most important aspects of the job. The following list of factors will help you to understand the key areas for achieving success and satisfaction as a NO. Use the list as a self-assessment guide to think about how well your skills and capabilities match those necessary to be successful in the position.
- direct my own learning (i.e., study independently during training)?
- accept coaching about performance and make the required changes to be successful?
- stay focused and attentive when doing repetitive tasks?
- follow strict policies and procedures?
- work with minimal supervision?
- handle rotating shift-work?
- stay alert, even during late night shifts?
- comfortable working in potentially radioactive contaminated areas or working with Radiation Protection equipment (plastic suits, respirators) and Personal Protection equipment (hardhats, footwear, hearing protection, gloves)? ❏ interested in the technical functioning of mechanical and electrical equipment?
- able to look at equipment and suggest what needs to be done to repair it?
- a conservative and methodical decision-maker?
- be able to perform repetitive work?
- not mind mostly detecting problems but not necessarily solving them?
- STOP if I’m unsure or need help?
- be safety conscious?
In this document, we have attempted to provide you with BASIC information about the NO position, i.e., information that is broad in its breadth of coverage, accurate in its depiction of the job, specific to the NO job and important to being satisfied in this position. It is based on credible information gathered directly from NOs. We hope this information has been useful in helping you decide whether you would like to submit an application to OPG for this position.