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August 13, 2012

Gaynier: The most powerful man in Connecticut

Contributed Photo Brian Gaynier, operation shift manager at Millstone Power Station, work in the control room for one of the power plant's two nuclear reactors. He leads a 12-man crew controlling the largest source of electricity in New England.

Brian Gaynier has his finger on the pulse of Connecticut, quite literally.

As operation shift manager for one of the two nuclear reactors at Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Gaynier — more than anyone — controls the proverbial switch supplying Connecticut with nearly half its electricity.

"People say, 'That must be exciting,' but I say, 'No, we prefer it not to be exciting'," Gaynier said.

The two Millstone reactors generate 2,100 megawatts of electricity, making the station the largest power plant in New England. Combined, the reactors supply 45 percent of Connecticut's power and 13 percent of New England's.

"Nearly a third of the power we use comes from the nukes," said Marcia Blomberg, spokeswoman for regional grid operator ISO New England. "Millstone is the biggest."

As the leader of the 12-man operation crew running a Millstone nuclear reactor, Gaynier is responsible for the operation, regular maintenance, testing and fulfilling the regulatory requirements. Whenever a component of the reactor needs to be brought offline for repair, he needs to make that happen in such a way that the reactor's redundant systems remain operating at 100 percent capacity.

Dominion — Millstone's owner — has executives on site who handle the administration of the generating plant, but as operation shift manager, Gaynier is in charge of the power, said Ken Holt, spokesman for Dominion.

"He literally is the power behind the scenes here," Holt said. "What he wants, he gets."

If an emergency arises in the reactor — and it never has — Gaynier must immediately identify the problem, and inform state and local government of the situation. From that point, he oversees the entire emergency response effort from the state, local and company levels.

"That is one of the largest responsibilities that I have," Gaynier said.

Not bad for a former submarine cook.

When Gaynier was 19 years old, he joined the U.S. Navy, starting off making and serving food on a submarine. "It didn't take me long to realize that being a cook on a submarine was not the career path or offered the challenge I was looking for," Gaynier said.

Gaynier converted from submarine cook to a submarine reactor operator, passing the Navy's Nuclear Power Program.

While in the Navy, Gaynier met his wife, Helen Gaynier. The two have been married 26 years.

Brian Gaynier spent nine years in the Navy before entering the private sector. In 1993, he started his career at Millstone, which was owned by Hartford-based Northeast Utilities at the time and later purchased by Dominion in 2001.

Shortly after taking a job at Millstone, Gaynier and his wife had the first of their two children: Emily, now 18 years old, followed by her "almost Irish twin" Audrey, now 17 years old, Gaynier said.

When he first got to Millstone, Gaynier started off as a plant equipment operator, meaning he was an unlicensed worker who did all the physical work in the plant under the direction of the people in the control room.

After 24 months of training and testing, he obtained his reactor operator license in 1996 from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was promoted to reactor operator.

"It is a great place to work. I enjoy it," Gaynier said. "It is an interesting job. No two days are the same."

In 2003, he took another year of training and testing to obtain his NRC senior reactor operator license, paving the way for him to take control at his current position starting in July 2010

"That is a big step, the senior reactor operator license," Gaynier said.

The training remains a part of everyday life at Millstone. Every five weeks, Gaynier and his crew must take a week of NRC required training and testing.

Since Gaynier has his hands on the most powerful switch in Connecticut, regular training is important not only to Millstone but the continued operations of all of the state.

"A normal day here is operating at 100 percent producing Connecticut's electricity," Gaynier said. "It is a great amount of responsibility."

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