Bechtel Corp. and its subcontractors have hired 1,425 workers in East Tennessee this year to resume construction of what is expected to be the first new nuclear reactor completed in America in more than 15 years.
Nuclear proponents in Chattanooga said Friday those hired to work on a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant could represent the first of thousands of new jobs created in the Tennessee Valley from a renaissance of nuclear power.
During a luncheon Friday of the revived Chattanooga chapter of the American Nuclear Society, industry leaders said the city is positioned to capitalize on any revival of nuclear energy.
“I believe that East Tennessee has a historic opportunity to play a major role in the resurgence of nuclear power,” said Sherrell R. Greene, director of nuclear technology programs at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Mr. Greene said rising energy demand and concerns over global warming could create a need for the United States to triple the number of nuclear plants by 2050 at a cost of more than $900 billion.
The research programs at Oak Ridge, TVA’s plans for more nuclear plants and nuclear component manufacturing and services by Alstom Power Co., Westinghouse Electric Co. and others in Chattanooga “really places us in a position to be the international center for the development and demonstration of the next generation of nuclear technology,” Mr. Greene said.
But critics of nuclear power question both the need and expense of more nuclear plants.
“We haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the wastes created by this technology and no one knows what it is going to cost or even if these new plant designs will work,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an anti-nuclear group based in Knoxville. “We could create far more jobs from conservation and renewable energy than we will by investing in nuclear power.”
However, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said a revived nuclear power industry “could play an even more impressive role” in the local economy than the recently announced $1 billion Volkswagen assembly plant.
Already, Bechtel and other TVA contractors working on finishing the $2.5 billion completion of the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar nuclear plant plan to employ more than 2,300 construction workers by the end of 2009. The TVA reactor will be the first U.S. nuclear unit completed since the unit 1 reactor at Watts Bar was completed in 1996.
Within five years, TVA is expected to decide whether to proceed with plans for two new reactors at its Bellefonte nuclear plant site in Hollywood, Ala.
Already, Georgia Power Co., backed by the city of Dalton, Ga., has signed engineering and construction contracts with Westinghouse Electric Co. and others to build two similar reactors next to the two existing units at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga.
Dalton Utilities expects to pay about $190 million over the next eight years for its share in the estimated $14 billion project, President Don Cope said. The Dalton utility will make investments in the proposed new Vogtle reactors as they are built between now and 2016, Mr. Cope said.
“We’re not going to borrow a penny,” Mr. Cope told the board of Dalton Utilities earlier this week.
Cost overruns after the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania led utilities to scrap plans for any more new reactors in the past three decades. But TVA Nuclear Chief Bill Campbell said the 104 reactors now operating have “provided safe, cheap and reliable power” for years at far less risk than coal-fired power generation, which supplies the biggest share of America’s electric power.
With higher oil and gas prices and likely limits on carbon emissions, nuclear power is needed to meet future electricity demand, Mr. Campbell said.
“Nuclear power isn’t an option, it’s a necessity,” he told more than 100 students and business leaders at the American Nuclear Society luncheon.
Stephane Cai, general manager for nuclear expansion at Alstom Power, said his company plans to hire more than 350 employees to staff a $280 million addition to Alstom’s Riverfront Parkway plant.
“We are a very strong believer in nuclear power,” said Mr. Cai, whose native France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants.
David Howell, vice president of field services for Westinghouse Electric Corp., said his company is investing $20 million and hiring 50 employees at its boiling-water reactor center in Chattanooga. By April, Westinghouse plans to open a specialized welding school in Chattanooga to train up to 95 students at a time.
“This will help give us the horsepower to sustain the nuclear renaissance,” Mr. Howell said.
The Westinghouse executive said the company also is looking at bringing back component manufacturing to America “and Chattanooga would certainly be on our list of cities” to consider for such investment.