Carefully and skillfully, the operator maneuvers the heavy grey structure then gently lowers it on cue.
Later, the caisson will be filled with concrete — one of many supports for a new Retube Waste Processing Building (RWPB) being erected at the site on the shore of Lake Ontario in Clarington.
“We’re starting at the ground level with the installation of the caissons, then the slab will be poured,” explains Kevin, a crane operator with Aecon Industrial.
Kevin is one of several operators working for Aecon at the site.
He’s been there since March. Before that, he was working at the nearby Darlington Energy Complex.
Kevin’s been running all types of equipment at the project.
Mostly, he’s been loading and unloading and bringing materials from the receiving area.
“We bring the material to these rigs because once these rigs are set up and drilling they’re not really mobile,” he says.
Kevin’s been a crane operator for several years. He got into the industry through family friends. They had a crane rental company with a few machines and were looking for an apprentice.
“I was doing commercial landscaping and the owner said, ‘Why don’t you get into cranes because we’re really hurting for an apprentice right now?’
“Before that, I never thought of it because I was so green to trucks and equipment. My experience was all service and technical-hand stuff. But it sparked my interest and I went from there.”
Kevin enrolled in the crane-training course at the OETIO in Oakville. The rest is history.
He’ll be running a crane at the Darlington site once the project progresses.
“I’m looking forward to the time when we have a need for a crane on site,” he says.
Kevin’s not used to staying on one project for long but he is looking forward to the experience.
“It’ll be neat to see something go up from ground level because all my experience has been in crane rental.
“I’m used to showing up at all different types of jobs and buildings at all different stages.
“I might show up at a job like this and move a caisson cage and then leave. It’s kind of neat to see the whole thing progress and know that I’m going to be here as it progresses.”
The RWPB building is one of a number of projects ongoing at the Darlington site. Some others include a parking lot, a Refurbishment Project Office and a Used Fuel Dry Storage building.
According to the spring 2015 issue of Darlington Refurbishment Newsletter, construction is ongoing on 18 site infrastructure projects and new or upgraded facilities that need to be in place to support a planned refurbishment of reactors at the site.
In addition to Aecon, Local 793 operators are working for a number of companies on site, including Crossby Dewar, Coco Paving, Boyle Excavating Ltd., Black & McDonald, EllisDon, Badger Daylighting, and E.S. Fox.
Tim Burns, a steward at Crossby Dewar who’s been in the union since 1995, has been running heavy equipment and doing maintenance work at the site.
Tim’s also been providing materials for ironworkers, pipefitters and various other trades on site.
Tim has been at Darlington since 2012.
He’s worked for Crossby Dewar since 2008.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on on this site,” he says. “We have eight operators working for Crossby Dewar alone.”
Tim, originally from Cape Breton, got into the industry through his father who worked in the coal industry and ran his own construction company which was signatory to IUOE Local 721.
When Tim moved to Ontario, he eventually ended up with Crossby Dewar.
The power plants are coal-fired in Cape Breton, so it was a little different working at a nuclear facility. But Burns has made the adjustment.
“It’s a lot different here in terms of safety standards. But it’s a good opportunity and it’s a safe environment. As long as you follow procedures everything’s good.”
While operators are working on various outdoor projects across the sprawling site, Local 793 members Doug Smith and Robert Roy, both of Aecon Industrial, have been gainfully employed inside the 28,800-square-metre Darlington Energy Complex, or DEC.
There is a full-scale replica of a Darlington reactor in the DEC, equipped with 480 fuel channels.
The facility was built so trades can practice tasks they’ll be doing when refurbishment of the four CANDU reactors at Darlington begins in 2016.
Doug and Robert are operating overhead cranes, a forklift and two automated guided vehicles (AGVs) inside the building.
The orange AGVs, which look like small flatbeds, can be operated by a remote control that resembles an iPad.
The vehicles can carry materials in and out of the reactor. They can also be operated on automatic and follow strips of magnetized metal in the concrete floor.
Once the live work begins, the AGVs will be used to move materials in and out of the reactors.
“We can run them on manual or automatic, depending on what material we’re moving,” says Doug, a steward with Aecon.
Doug’s worked at Darlington in the past.
He was at the Pickering site and returned to Darlington about two years ago.
He got into the industry through a family connection.
It was his uncle, Chuck Cline, a Local 793 operator now retired, who got him into the trade.
“He talked to me in Grade 10 when I was in high school and said, ‘C’mon and be an operator. We need operators.’
“When high school came to an end I got hold of him and went to a couple of jobsites he was working on just to check things out and then went down to the union hall and talked to (Local 793 director of apprenticeship training) Joe Dowdall.”
Doug joined Local 793 in 1997.
His co-worker at the DEC, Robert, says running the AGV can be tricky at times because the vehicle has to be maneuvered in tight quarters.
However, he and Doug are getting the hang of it.
“We had some short training sessions but mostly Doug and I just picked it up and when we get into trouble we ask for some support.
“It’s just like running an iPad. You just push in the direction you want the AGV to go.
“There’s a lot of stuff to learn so it’s pretty interesting work.”
Robert, a union member since 1989, has been at Darlington about a year.
He likes the fact he was able to work indoors during the cold winter months.
“It’s not too often that you get to work indoors in our line of work,” he notes.