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Former Hecker Dealership Now Nuclear Training Site

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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By Bill Hudson, WCCO-TV — Denny Hecker’s former Suzuki dealership in Monticello is now void of that new car smell. But despite the large “For Sale” sign along the road, the building is hardly gathering dust.

MONTICELLO (WCCO)

“Once they leave here and go into that plant they operate at a flawless level,” explains Tim O’Connor, Xcel Energy’s V.P. of the Monticello nuclear plant.

In March, the plant will undergo some major renovations that will help extend its life and increase generating capacity by 12 percent.

The work will require the help of 2,500 temporary workers. But before anyone picks up a tool, they’ll first undergo rigorous training. That’s where one’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. The spacious former dealership is the perfect setting for Xcel’s extensive training and processing needs.

“We’re doing training qualifications of all the people before they come in the site.,” said O’Connor. “So, when we bring them in, they’re ready to go to work.”

The former showroom floor has been transformed into a sea of desktop computers. At the rows of tables, each hired worker must pass background checks and a battery of tests.

“There’s only one way we do it — rigorous and without mistake,” explained O’Connor.

Walking past what had been the building’s car wash, a space that’s now a lunchroom, is the dealership’s service bay. That’s where Xcel staff conduct training scenarios. Here, everyone from pipefitters to electricians, will learn and practice the strict protocols for radiologic safety!

“That’s exactly what this training does, it simulates being in the plant,” said trainer Al Knaus.

Ronnie Teague is a laborer who’s learning that, in a nuclear plant, even a misplaced bolt is a big deal. She’s taking part in what’s known as foreign material exclusion, a practice to prevent any contaminants from entering the plants intricate network of piping.

“Whether at a school or an old dealership, it’s training and it’s necessary and it works,” said Teague.

And it’s building confidence in a temporary, but highly skilled workforce, where there’s no room for error.

“When I send the people in the plant they really will be able to perform without incident,” O’Connor added.

A second renovation phase is scheduled for next fall.

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