When Curtis McKeown, 60, wanted a job at the Crystal River Nuclear Plant (CR3) on Florida’s west coast in 1970, he showed up every day until he landed a position as a carpenter’s helper working the night shift. He was only 17 and even had to wait a week until his 18th birthday before he could officially start.
“I was a gopher,” Curtis laughed. “In those days, you just showed up at the job site – no resume, no interview. If they saw your face often enough, they knew you were serious. And if you worked – I mean worked really hard – you got to stay.” Stay he would and ultimately become a project superintendent.
At the time, construction crews were building the steel liner for the concrete containment building that would surround the reactor vessel. Seven years later – March 13, 1977 – the plant would come on line.
Then, in the mid-1980s, when Curtis wanted to become a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensed reactor operator and work in the control room, his co-workers, friends and even parents heckled him. “They’d say, ‘Don’t bother taking that test. I know people smarter than you who can’t pass that test’,” he recalled. “But I always liked a challenge. Call it reverse psychology.”
He passed the test and spent the next 30 years in CR3’s Operations department, working “crazy hours” with “changing shifts” to keep the plant running successfully. “I came to work every day knowing that what I did mattered to people,” he said. “I have spent most of my adult life doing something associated with this plant. It’s my home.”
So when he received the option to stay “home” for a two-year assignment as a control room supervisor and work in CR3’s Decommissioning Transition Organization (DTO), redeploy to another position within the company or leave the company with severance, the decision was easy.
“When the company announced the decision to decommission CR3, I felt a huge sense of loss,” he said. “It was a lot to take in and accept. But the CR3 spirit and resilience has shined brightest during our darkest days, and the company is doing an excellent job at retaining as many people as possible. I was here during the original pouring and tensioning of the containment building. I was here when we turned on the lights, and I want to be here to take care of this plant during her final days.”
Indeed, even after 43 years on the job, Curtis McKeown remains committed to his job.