Canadian nuclear power engineers walk off jobs

Mon Jul 9, 2012 4:28pm EDT
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By Nicole Mordant and Allison Martell

VANCOUVER/TORONTO (Reuters) - Nuclear engineers at the Candu Energy subsidiary of Canada's SNC-Lavalin Group Inc went on strike on Monday in a contract dispute and no talks to end the walkout are scheduled, their union said.

The engineers, who design and perform major service at CANDU reactors in Canada and around the world, are not responsible for day-to-day reactor operations.

The walkout is not expected to disrupt power supply unless the strikers set up picket lines outside nuclear plants and operational staff refuse to cross them.

About 700 engineers joined 144 others who have been on strike for five weeks, said Michael Ivanco, a senior scientist and vice president at the union, the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA). The engineers comprise some 60 percent of Candu Energy's 1,400 employees.

About 15 percent of Canada's electricity comes from nuclear power, according to the World Nuclear Association. Most of the reactors are in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, and they supply about half of the province's electricity. All nuclear power plants in Canada were designed by Candu.

There are also Candu-designed nuclear power plants operating in India, Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, Romania and China.

The engineers have been without a contract since January 1, 2011. Key sticking points in talks for a new deal have been compensation, pensions and seniority, Ivanco said.

"The most immediate impact that I can see is if the strike goes any length of time, people will scatter," Ivanco said. "In this industry, although new reactors are not being sold, there's a tremendous amount of work, and a lot of competitors looking to snap up people."   Continued...

The head office of SNC Lavalin seen in downtown Montreal March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi