Bruce Power’s Jeff Cremasco on His Career in Nuclear
A career in nuclear science is full of opportunities to make the world brighter – and the McMaster Nuclear Reactor is the perfect place to develop your skills and grow your career. Just ask Jeff Cremasco, Section Manager at Bruce Power.
Bruce Power provides nuclear power to one in three homes, hospitals, schools and businesses in Ontario and provides isotopes to sterilize medical equipment and fight diseases like cancer.
Jeff Cremasco has been a Section Manager at Bruce Power since 2018, where he supports fuel handling at the Bruce B reactor station and the production of medical isotopes Cobalt-60 and Lutetium-177.
Cremasco’s career in nuclear began at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor (MNR) in 2008, where he trained and worked in nuclear reactor operations. In the interview below, Cremasco discusses how he got his start in the nuclear energy industry, his most memorable and valuable experiences at MNR and the promising future ahead for nuclear science and innovation in Canada and around the world.
Tell us about being a reactor operator at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor.
I joined McMaster in 2008 and began training to become a reactor operator. During that time, several of MNR’s operators had been working there since the 1960s and 70s, so there was so much knowledge and experience to soak up. Of course, I received formal training – but my training was also drawn from watching the operators on shift.
Traditional reactor operations is similar to a trade and my training was like an apprenticeship. I learned about the various systems inside the reactor from hands-on experience. I shadowed the operators and explored the reactor under their watchful eye, doing rounds and routines and asking lots of questions. That’s something about the McMaster Nuclear Reactor that’s unique compared to power reactors; at MNR, there’s a lot of – for lack of a better word – exposure. Maybe that’s a bad pun, but you can see everything at MNR – the valves, temperature probes and even the reactor core, which isn’t visible in other kinds of reactors.
What kinds of skills or qualities are essential for reactor operators?
The most important qualities that reactor operators need are a bias toward safety and a questioning attitude. As an operator, you’re always using your senses. When you enter a room, you need to scan your surroundings, identify any potential hazards and communicate these with your team. The more time you spend inside a reactor, the more you get to know how things should look, sound and smell. You always need to be thinking, ‘What’s in this room, how is it supposed to operate, and is it operating how it should?’
What inspired you to pursue a career in nuclear?
My interest in nuclear science began when I went on a field trip to Bruce Power during high school. I remember I was given a TLD (thermoluminescent dosimeter) to wear during the tour, and I thought it was so neat to be inside a reactor and to be wearing a device that tracked the radiation levels.
After I graduated high school, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Waterloo. I wasn’t sure what to do after I completed my degree. When I was 25 I decided, why not pursue my interest in nuclear science as a career? So, I did a two-year technician program in power engineering at Durham College from 2005-2007.
After I graduated college, my aunt who lived in Hamilton told me about a job posting in the Hamilton Spectator for reactor operations at MNR. I didn’t even know there was a nuclear reactor in Hamilton; I was so excited to apply. It’s the first and only job I’ve ever gotten via the newspaper, and I feel very fortunate to have found out about the opportunity.
Can you share some memorable experiences from your time at MNR?
It was an exciting time to be working at MNR; I remember we celebrated the reactor’s 50th anniversary in 2009. We had a series of events to celebrate the reactor’s history and McMaster’s contributions to nuclear research and education. We also received a government grant to do some infrastructure upgrades inside the reactor. It was really wonderful to see the reactor be rejuvenated in that way. And I loved being an operator and being part of a crew that was making such a positive impact in the nuclear research community, both at McMaster and globally.
What role does teamwork play in reactor operations?
Since you can’t be in two places at once, reactor operators never work alone. The most important part of reactor operations is the ‘three Cs’: control, cool and contain – and we need a team of people to make sure the three Cs are met. Usually, there will be someone in the control room and someone out in the field, and they need to communicate with each other as well as with the reactor manager to make decisions and ensure the reactor is working safely and effectively. There are also shift changes throughout the day, so it’s important that the turnover between crews goes smoothly, with the previous crew briefing the incoming crew before they start their shift.
What’s something you wish more people knew about nuclear science?
I think there are misconceptions about radiation that originate from various places – even from Marvel movies. I learned a lot about radiation while I was in college and at MNR, and it’s important that everyone understands the principles of radiation, and that radiation is everywhere. For instance, many people might not realize that we’re exposed to cosmic radiation when we fly on an airplane. And the degree of exposure that you receive inside a nuclear reactor isn’t any higher than common sources of radiation exposure we encounter in our daily lives. And of course, radiation monitoring is a key part of reactor operations to ensure workers and visitors can safely use and tour our facilities.
What kinds of innovations are driving nuclear science today and in the future?
It’s a very exciting time in nuclear. There’s a lot of new technology being developed, and I think the public is understanding how important nuclear is to our energy needs and our fight against climate change, and towards health research and the development of new medical treatments.
Nuclear reactors contain a lot of energy, and we can use this energy to generate electricity, but we can also use it to create medical isotopes that help save lives. Power reactors like Bruce Power and research reactors like MNR are leading the way in this arena. It’s one of the areas I’m most excited about right now at Bruce Power, as we’ve recently begun production of Lutetium-177 – an isotope used to treat prostate cancer.
What advice would you give to those interested in nuclear as a career?
I encourage more people to pursue a career in nuclear. There are so many amazing opportunities in this field and the people within it make up a truly global community. A great first step if you’re interested in learning more about careers in nuclear is to go on a reactor tour. It’s neat to see the technology first-hand and to explore potential jobs within this setting. I would also encourage you to look into various educational programs. There are so many options for education and hands-on work experience at places like McMaster and others in Ontario and across Canada. Do your homework and pick a program that really interests you.
Want to learn more about nuclear careers at McMaster? Visit our Careers webpage and check out other interviews with NO&F staff and alumni.Blog