Alstom, which for the first time Monday shipped nuclear turbine rotors from Chattanooga via the Tennessee River, will eye production for natural gas power plants, its chief executive said.
"Nuclear will continue," said plant CEO Lawrence Quinn. "We also see gas as equally important."
Officials expect to hire about 33 more employees by year's end, adding to the Chattanooga thermal power operation's existing work force of about 200, Quinn said.
He also said company officials foresee production of units for shipment overseas, such as to China.
Despite the bumpy economy, power generation production is "absolutely the right business" to be in, said Quinn, who replaced Stephane Cai as head of the $300 million Chattanooga plant that started up about a year ago. Cai took an Alstom post at its Paris headquarters.
"We have a large order backlog," Quinn said.
Two massive nuclear rotors, turbine parts weighing about 130 tons, were loaded onto a barge for shipment to an Illinois nuclear power plant.
Officials said the rotors will travel about 1,000 miles by river to Exelon Corp.'s Dresden power plant in Morris, Ill. They said it will take about 10 days to make the trip by waterway, which is seen as less costly and easier than transporting the massive units by truck. Each unit is 35 feet long and 15 feet high, officials said.
Kurt Greene, director of human resources for the plant, said being on the Tennessee River gives Alstom a logistical advantage over competitors.
He estimated that over 80 percent of its potential clients are serviceable by river.
Tim Brown, Alstom's communications director for North America, estimated Alstom's entire contract with Exelon, including the two replacement rotors, at about $400 million.
"This includes multiple pieces of equipment," Brown said.
Quinn said shipment of the units by barge Monday brings to fruition years of work at the Riverfront Parkway factory.
"This is a monumental experience" for the plant, he said.
The rotors which Alstom produced will help extend the life cycle and increase the performance of the nuclear power plant. The turbine rotor is pushed by pressurized heat and steam to help generate power.
Alstom officials have said it plans to hire up to 350 workers by 2013. The company also has an adjacent boiler operation that employs between 500 and 600 people.
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