In the worst economic slump in decades, manufacturers of nuclear power equipment gathered in Chattanooga Wednesday to talk about how to expand their production and hire more workers to supply an expected revival in nuclear power.

The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates at least 20,000 construction jobs will be added to eight plants the industry expects will begin construction by 2011. If all 26 of the reactors proposed to be built in the United States move forward, NEI projects at least 62,000 construction jobs will be created in the next decade, including several thousand by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Already, NEI estimates, more than $4 billion has been invested in nuclear plant development, creating nearly 15,000 jobs.


* 43 - Number of nuclear plants under construction worldwide, including 26 in China and 11 each in Japan and Russia

* 17 - Number of applications in the United States to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for up to 26 new reactors

* $8 billion - Projected investment in new nuclear plants by 2012

* $2.5 billion - TVA's investment in finishing incomplete reactor at Watts Bar

* 57,000 - Number of employees at the 104 commercial reactors in operation in the United States

Nuclear job generation

* The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates more than $4 billion of private investments in new nuclear power plants at the end of 2008 created nearly 15,000 jobs nationwide.

* TVA is spending $2.5 billion to finish a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, adding 2,300 construction jobs.

* Alstom Power is building a $280 million expansion of its Riverfront Parkway facility, creating 350 jobs.

* Chicago Bridge & Iron has bought 61 acres in Marion County and is planning a $110 million production plant with 350 jobs.

* Westinghouse Electric Co. is investing about $25.2 million to buy and upgrade the former Metals USA building, adding 50 more employees for its nuclear power services division.

Sources: TVA, Alstom, Westinghouse, NEI

"I really believe that you are in the right place at the right time," TVA Senior Vice President Ashok Bhatnagar told more than 300 nuclear industry vendors during a conference Wednesday at The Chattanoogan. "Opportunity is knocking."

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told industry leaders that Chattanooga is ready to answer the call and could be at the center of the industry revival.

"This is a nuclear-friendly city," Mr. Littlefield said. "We are a city that has an industrial past and a manufacturing future which, to a great extent, will be built on energy."

credit crisis weighs in

Critics of nuclear power dismiss claims of a nuclear power revival, noting that Wall Street was reluctant to finance new reactors even before the recent credit crunch.

"The risks are just too huge with nuclear power and the only renaissance we're seeing is the one built with the taxpayers' money," said Michael Mariotte, executive director for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear group based in Takoma Park, Md. "The industry tried unsuccessfully in the stimulus package to get $50 billion of loan guarantees, but they still have $18.5 billion in guarantees - more than the entire auto industry has received - and they are yet to build a new reactor."

Doug Walters, senior director for new plant development at the Nuclear Energy Institute, acknowledged that the economic slowdown and credit crunch have combined to lessen the demand and raise the difficulty to finance new reactors.

"But we do expect we'll see between four and eight units built by 2016," he said.

17 licenses sought

If the initial reactors are built on time and within budget, Mr. Walters predicts up to 45 more reactors could be built by 2030 to meet rising electrical demand and to replace aging fossil plants.

No new reactors have been ordered since 1973, although 17 utilities have applied for one of the streamlined licenses the NRC is granting for the next generation of nuclear plants. TVA has applied for a combined operating license to build two Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors in its Bellefonte plant in Alabama. Mr. Bhatnagar said TVA will decide in about a year whether to proceed with the reactors.

"We're going to have ups and downs in our industry and right now we're going through a down period (for energy consumption)," he said, noting that TVA power sales are projected to drop about 5 percent this year. "But we still believe that nuclear power is the best option for TVA moving forward."

employment at low ebb

Employment at TVA nuclear plants and Custom Engineering's successor - Alstom Power and Westinghouse Electric - is now less than one-third of what it once was, even with recent additions at Alstom, Westinghouse and TVA's Watts Bar plant.

At TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., TVA has 1,600 workers employed at the Unit 2 reactor, including 680 contract engineers, 390 union craft workers, 430 support personnel and 100 TVA employees. By the end of 2010, more than 2,300 workers will be employed building the Unit 2 reactor.

TVA also has spent $23 million on materials for the newest reactor at Watts Bar as part of $200 million budgeted for equipment and materials, Mr. Bhatnagar said.

no more "john waynes"

Will Jump, a manager at the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, which may add two new reactors in the next decade, said the nuclear industry is far different today from what it was when the last new reactors were begun three decades ago.

New technologies, management approaches and industry standards should help bring the next generation of plants on line faster and for less money than the costly units built when the industry used a "construct as you go" approach, he said.

"We used a 'John Wayne' approach in the past and didn't learn from one another," he said. "It's a different world today than it was then."