Jesse Lowman first enrolled at Chattanooga State to take courses for a pharmacy degree, but he quickly decided to change careers after hearing of prospects in the nuclear power industry.
Mr. Lowman, 31, joined a new program at Chattanooga State Technical Community College that could put nearly 40 radiation protection technicians in the field by 2010, each earning more than $50,000 a year.
“I decided it didn’t make sense to go to school for eight to 10 years to become a pharmacist and make roughly the same amount I could in this program with a two-year degree,” said the Dalton, Ga., native, who is heading up a new local student chapter of the American Nuclear Society.
“This industry is growing, and we know there will be a demand for more workers,” said Tim McGhee, head of the engineering technology department at Chattanooga State, which recently reinstated its radiation protection technology program to supply the burgeoning industry.
The prospect of a revival of nuclear power construction across the South is enticing more students like Mr. Lowman to pursue careers in the nuclear industry. TVA projects it will need to hire about 250 workers a year to replace retiring workers in its nuclear power division. The federal utility and others may hire thousands more workers if they move ahead with pending applications to build the next generation of nuclear power plants.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 30 — Number of proposed nuclear reactors being pursued by 17 utilities or energy companies in the U.S.
* 1.6 — Percent of ownership in Plant Vogtle by Dalton Utilities.
* $190 million — Estimated investment by Dalton Utilities in two new reactors at Plant Vogtle.
* 250 — Number of nuclear power jobs TVA needs to fill each year to replace retiring workers.
Sources: Nuclear Energy Institute, Dalton Utilities, TVA
Dalton Utilities is backing the nuclear renaissance with plans to invest about $190 million over the next decade for its 1.6 percent share of two new reactors that the Southern Co. wants to add at the Vogtle Nuclear Plant near Waynesboro, Ga.
Don Cope, president of Dalton Utilities, said the investment by the municipal utility offers the prospect of buying into a reliable source of power that doesn’t contribute to global warming as do coal- or gas-fired plants. Despite the cost overruns for nuclear power plants built a generation ago, Mr. Cope said the streamlined licensing for the next generation of plants should reduce the costs of construction.
“The cost of building plants back in the 1970s and ’80s was a moving target as regulations changed,” Mr. Cope said. “What we think we have now is a standardized design that will be pre-approved and similar to what they do in France, where they get most of their energy from nuclear energy.”
TVA, Southern and four other utilities in the South have applied for one of the new combined operating licenses for Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors, which are designed to be simpler, safer and less expensive than the generation of plants now running.
To supply parts for such plants, Westinghouse and Alstom Power Co. are expanding their Chattanooga facilities and Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. has purchased 60 acres on the Tennessee River in Marion County for a fabrication plant. Collectively, the nuclear supply companies could hire nearly 800 more local workers in the next couple of years.