published Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Nuclear industry to hire 130,000 for new reactors

Abdualaziz Alqahtani grew up in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. But after studying at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the engineering student is eager to return to his native country to work on another form of energy.

The 25-year-old graduate student says he would like to work at one of the 16 nuclear power plants Saudi Arabia plans to build over the next two decades.

"It's interesting and important work," Alqahtani said Wednesday after hearing nuclear power representatives describe the the industry.

Although the power of the atom was first harnessed in the United States, only a handful of the more than 60 nuclear reactors under construction around the world are in the United States. But a manager at one of the utilities building two of the new reactors in Georgia by Southern Nuclear told UTC engineering students the nuclear industry will still need 130,000 more workers to build the next 30 reactors expected to be built during their careers in the U.S.

Far more workers will be needed to build more than 100 reactors planned to be built around the globe.

"We are hiring engineers today and so are the other major nuclear utilities like TVA, Exelon, Energy and Duke," said John Williams, a senior engineer for the Southern Co. in Birmingham, Ala.

Southern, the parent company of Georgia Power, is building two new Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga. The new reactors -- the first to employ new passive safety designs -- are scheduled to be completed by 2017 and 2018.

Southern currently has more than 2,500 contract workers on site at Plant Vogtle and TVA has nearly 5,000 contract and staff employees working at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant to build one reactor and refuel the other.

The average age of nuclear workers at both TVA and Southern is in the mid 40s. "We'll need many new workers just to replace those who are retirning," Williams said.

The federal Energy Information Administration projects that even with more energy conservation and efficiency, demand for electricity will grow by 28 percent by 2040. Williams said much of that energy will have to come from nuclear power.

"We believe the only way we are going to meet this demand is to deploy all of our energy options," said Williams, whose appearance at UTC is part of a nationwide education and recruitment campaign by the industry-backed Nuclear Energy Institute. "We think we're going to have to deploy conservation, natural gas, 21st century clean coal and nuclear power to meet the demands of our customers in the future."

Amid growing concerns about global climate change, Williams said nuclear power has a lower carbon footprint tha fossil fuel generation and, over the life of its plants and all of its costs, generates less carbon dioxide than many solar power units.

Williams conceded that nuclear power has suffered from public concerns following the accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States, Chernobyl in Russia and Fukushimi in Japan.

Dr. Phil Kazemersky, a professor of nuclear Engineering at UTC, said public opinion about nuclear power was shaped in many American minds by the atomic bomb built in nearby Oak Ridge.

"The image of the mushroom cloud still lingers," he said, even though nuclear power harnesses the the power of the atom in a totally different manner.

"There are concerns by many, but public support for nuclear power is greater among those living around nuclear plants because they see the economic benefits from these facilties," Williams said. "We have a stellar safety record and we're getting safer every day."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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