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Jerry Grandey, departing CEO of Cameco (Nathan Sthankiya/Nathan Sthankiya)
Jerry Grandey, departing CEO of Cameco (Nathan Sthankiya/Nathan Sthankiya)

Exit Interview

Cameco CEO spends last days fighting nuclear panic Add to ...

Jerry Grandey was ready for a quiet passage into retirement after three decades in the tumultuous nuclear industry, including the past eight years as CEO of uranium giant Cameco of Saskatoon. Then Japan was rocked by a monster earthquake and nuclear power plant crisis in March, which sent Grandey's plans for a tranquil transition up in smoke. As he prepares to depart on June 30 and settle down in his adopted home in Saskatchewan, the 64-year-old native of California has been spending a lot of his time calling for reason and perspective on nuclear development.

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Will you be busy until your last day? It's just after the annual meeting in late May. There's one more performance to do, one more crisis to manage.

Is the industry entering a choppy period? I wouldn't disagree. The phobia about nuclear radiation will cause a pause in some new construction, but-I emphasize-just a pause. Once people reflect on the risks associated with other energy sources, they'll come to the rational conclusion that nuclear, even in the worst circumstances, is still better than the alternatives.

But what about long-term impact on the environment? If you're truly worried about climate change and air pollution, nuclear has tremendous benefits. Every time this issue has been studied by governments and academics, even with the history of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, the conclusion is the same: There's a lot of hysteria but very, very few casualties or fatalities compared with coal mines or oil and gas platforms.

Why are you so confident? I have this innate belief in the ability of human beings to put aside hysteria. After a while, we have to return to real facts, real situations.

So why leave the job now? I've been running or helping run uranium companies since 1982. I find it fun, but I'm a little tired of the schedule-16 hours a day, seven days a week. And there's a time to get fresh energy and ideas into an organization.

What will you do? I'm a pretty avid swimmer and I compete in one triathlon every summer as the swimming leg of a team. I want to do more competitions.

Other Saskatchewan companies, such as Potash Corp. and Ipsco, moved top executives to the U.S. in recent years. Why did you keep Cameco's head office in Saskatoon? When 70% of your assets are in this province and a good bit of revenue is earned here, you have a moral obligation to have the headquarters here. And if you're a very large employer in the province, you tend to get the best people. Otherwise, you'd be competing for talent in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Chicago and you'd just be another employer.

But as CEO, did you have to live in Saskatoon? You've got to be at the headquarters. If you expect to be seen as an executive team, you'd damned well better be visible as that team.

Why stay after you retire? After more than 18 years in Saskatoon, it's where our friends are. There's our community involvement and the quality of life. Rest assured there are parts of the winter when we will be absent, but that's typical behaviour around here.

What's the most important thing you learned? This industry is always under a microscope. You need to be proactive in explaining what you are doing, and transparent about mistakes. And you have to perform at a much higher level than the mining industry is used to. There's this need for a culture of safety that operates at a consistent level of excellence.

What's your biggest regret? I failed to understand early on that human beings will tell you that they've intellectually grasped a lesson but, in reality, they haven't learned it. You have to be sure that procedures, policies and oversight are in place to help change the culture.

What's your advice to your successor? Don't get complacent and remain absolutely vigilant.

 

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