Nuclear power, already an economic force in the Chattanooga area, could supply the city with even more of a charge with today's formal startup of a key Alstom plant, officials say.
"It definitely positions Chattanooga well if it has a major facility for building some of the large components," said Mitch Singer of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Paris-based Alstom's top corporate leadership along with Gov. Phil Bredesen are expected to take part in dedicating the $300 million Riverfront Parkway plant.
The facility is designed to build the world's largest steam and gas turbines for power plants as well as retrofit existing facilities, according to Alstom officials.
On Wednesday, Alstom brought in about 100 customers for a sneak preview of the plant and to talk about energy, said Amy Ericson, vice president market communications for Alstom's power sector.
She said Alstom's U.S. customers are excited about the new plant's investment in their industry.
"They like the proximity of it very much," Ms. Ericson said. "All up and down the middle corridor of the country are some of the largest nuclear and steam facilities."
Ms. Ericson said the plant's construction aligns with industry challenges to de-carbonize power and still supply the most reliable, and cheapest energy.
"It's state-of-the art heavy industry," she said. "It's the ultimate in controls, quality and predictability."
Mr. Singer said companies plowing money into the energy sector will help Chattanooga's economy and spur creation of technical and engineering jobs.
The Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy, projects the need for 69 new nuclear plants by 2030. The EPA projects the need for 187 new nuclear plants by 2050.
The nuclear industry's preparation for building new plants has seen the creation of more than 15,000 jobs over the past three years, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
"These jobs pay very well," he said. At Alstom, which expects to hire 350 workers by 2013, the jobs will average $75,000 annually, according to the company.
One college dean said the area needs to be "laser tight" in developing the right work force to foster more job growth in the sector.
"We want to build that smart, intelligent work force that will entice more industry to locate here," said Tim McGhee, Chattanooga State Community College's engineering technology dean.
An expanded nuclear industry cluster in the Tennessee Valley offers a lot of opportunity, he said.
Alstom spokesman Tim Brown said the new plant aids the city's economy by the so-called multiplier effect of the investment.
"That's another way to calculate the benefit to Chattanooga," he said.
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