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IBEW Fighting to Save U.S. Nuclear Manufacturing

 

February 06, 2014

 

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HR 3766 threatens the jobs of tens of thousands of highly specialized nuclear manufacturing workers, including Blairsville, Pa., Local 1096 members Bob Gibbons (above) and Brandon Gyenes, who work at Westinghouse’s Specialty Metals Plant.
Photo Courtesy: Westinghouse

The outlook for more than 50,000 American jobs in manufacturing could be determined by a bill under consideration in Congress that places more than a dozen significant new restrictions on the export of civilian nuclear technology.

 

The IBEW has joined a coalition of labor unions and nuclear equipment manufacturers opposing the bill which critics say is a misguided attempt to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

When Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., introduced the bill for the first time three years ago, officials from the State Department said it would not only cripple the U.S. nuclear industry’s ability to compete in the global civil nuclear market, it would impede U.S. non-proliferation efforts. The bill failed in 2011, but was reintroduced after the Obama administration signed a nuclear pact with Iran in late-2013.

“Keeping nuclear weapons from getting to the wrong people is critically important for everyone. If sacrifices need to be made to keep our country safe, so be it,” said Bruce Burton, International Representative in the legislative affairs department. “But it makes no sense to put tens of thousands of jobs at risk for a law that the departments of State and Energy say would make us less safe.”

Burton says the bill would put at risk hundreds of IBEW members including the 300 members of Harwick, Pa., Local 1914 who machine and assemble 200-ton reactor coolant pumps, control-rod-drive mechanisms as well as seals and motors at the Curtiss-Wright plant near Pittsburgh.

“Most manufacturing in this country is just snapping together a bunch of pieces that come in the door,” said Dan Callander, business manager for Local 1914. “Under our roof we do some of the largest and most complicated welding, machining and assembly in the world. Give us a chance and we can compete with anyone in the world.”

The typical nuclear plant requires 44 miles of pipe, 300 miles of electrical wiring, 1,500 nuclear-grade valves and more than 90,000 electrical components.  The global marketplace the Commerce Department estimates will be worth between $500 and 740 billion over the next decade, nearly all of it overseas. Callander’s competition comes from the four other countries with domestic nuclear manufacturing capacity: France, Russia, Korea and Japan.

All five countries impose restrictions on trading partners to ensure nuclear exports are used peacefully.  In the U.S., the treaty is known as a “123 agreement” after the provision in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 covering international nuclear commerce.

“The 123 program has been remarkably successful,” Burton said. “American workers have designed, supplied and maintained nuclear facilities around the world for decades without a single violation by a partner.”

The most damaging restriction in the bill according to Dan Lipman, executive director of policy development and supplier programs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, is that potential trading partners must give up their right to reprocess and enrich nuclear fuel, processes which can be used for peaceful or military ends. None of the other nuclear export countries make a similar demand.

“Simply put, I don’t see why any country would ever buy American equipment again,” Lipman said. “Even if a country has no intention of enriching or reprocessing nuclear fuel, even if we know they don’t have the money or interest to build the infrastructure to do so, why would a country sign away a sovereign right when they don’t have to? They won’t.”


But Lipman says the combination of Obama Administration opposition and the coalition of labor and industry was enough to kill the bill in 2011, but he said bad ideas have a disturbing way of becoming law in this Congress.


“It is crazy to kill some of the best manufacturing jobs left and make ourselves less safe in the bargain,” Lipman said. “But if we don’t make ourselves heard, I’m afraid this bill has a real chance.”

 

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