Past Shift Manager, Bruce Power & Board Member, Women in Nuclear Canada
Industry icon Tracy Primeau shares her experience starting as a woman in the nuclear industry and how the industry can be more diverse.
What led you to a career in the nuclear energy industry?
I never considered working in the nuclear industry — I planned to be a history teacher. I went to the University of Waterloo, which had a co-op program that allowed me to spend some time with high school students. I then decided that teaching wasn’t the life for me. Even though I was in an arts program, I took many computer science courses, was really good at it, and loved it. But I didn’t want to start over again — I was tired of living on macaroni and ketchup and was newly married.
So, my dad suggested I apply to be an operator, and I did. I went through all the testing and interviews, and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) offered me a job as a nuclear operator in training in 1990. Until the ’80s, women weren’t even allowed to work in nuclear plants. I passed all the tests and had the smarts, but there was a bit of diversity and equity push at the time, which I’m sure helped me get chosen.
What was your experience as the first woman to enter the Bruce A Nuclear Generating Station control room as an authorized nuclear operator?
There was a lot of extra pressure, but it was mostly from myself. When I went through the program to get my certification, I wanted to be at the top of the class, get the highest mark on the tests, and I felt the need to be the best. There definitely were people watching me. Some older men didn’t want to work with me. There was a shift manager who didn’t want me on his crew.
Being the first woman to enter Bruce A came with a lot of proving myself, but the hard work I put in worked out to be great because I learned so much and gained so much knowledge in such a short time. The very first time I made a mistake, I was torn apart. My first mistake was made well into my career — I was trying to do too many things at once and pressed the wrong button, but I fixed it immediately. I made that mistake a part of my story that I would speak to women and young operators about. When you take your mistakes, learn from them, and use them productively, they make a difference.
Why is diversity in STEM jobs, specifically in the nuclear industry, so important?
The nuclear industry is currently going through a renaissance, and change, innovation, and growth in the industry will only be successful if we have diverse teams. We need people from diverse backgrounds who look different, think differently, and have differing experiences. And I’m not only talking about women or racialized groups or LGBTQ2+ groups here — I’m also talking about diversity in thinking and background.
I’ve always thought that what I bring to the OPG board is my CANDU nuclear experience leading a shift crew, my Indigenous background, and the fact that I was a blue-collar worker. I lived in coveralls for the first 10 years of my career, I worked shifts for most of my career, and I was a female in a non-traditional role for all of my career — which was another piece of diversity I brought.
If everyone around the table on your team looks like you, then you’re all going to have the same ideas and are just going to pat each other on the back. We need people on our teams from different backgrounds who look different and have differing experiences.