Cook refueling outage giving local economy boost

BRIDGMAN, Mich. -- Every year and a half, over 1,000 workers make Southwest Michigan their temporary home as they help refuel the reactors at Cook Nuclear Plant and it stimulates the local economy too.

“The nuclear fuel we use only lasts for so long until it’s essentially out of energy and we have to put new, fresh uranium rods into the reactor,” said Joel Gebbie, AEP senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.

Keeping a nuclear power plant up and running isn’t something that can wait until after a pandemic.

900 additional workers joined forces with regular employees at the plant to complete more than 9,000 tasks needing to be finished in just a few months.

“We take a lot of very heavy components apart,” said Gebbie. “In this outage part of our main generator, we take the reactor a part, we have to put new fuel in and then all of the valves, pumps, heat exchangers, breakers that have to work for us.”

The temporary workers on site are actually less than past outages because of COVID-19 but it still gives the local economy a much needed boost.

“We talk about those 900 workers, about 30-40 percent are specialty workers, they do things for nuclear power plants and travel in from outside the area and stay in the hotels, use the stores and restaurant.”

But also keep thousands of skilled people on the job, too.

“The other 60-70% are actually our local trade craftsman, for example from the Electricians 153 in South Bend or the Iron Workers 292, and we pay the largest amount of taxes percent wise in Berrien County and have a payroll of almost $100 million per year, so we are a significant input to the county’s economy,” said Gebbie.

While officials at Cook can’t share the exact timeline of when they expect the outage to be finished for competitive reasons, they do say this year’s will be shorter due to an abundance of caution with the pandemic.

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