Important Nuclear Power Meeting Today in Atlanta

Representatives from the Southern Company are meeting with US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials today in Atlanta.  The NRC is expected to give its final verdict on a critical (pun intended) construction license for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in South Georgia.

Plant Vogtle following construction

If approved, the reactors at Vogtle will be the first new American reactors in 30 years.

Protesters have started gathering outside the Federal building in Atlanta.  Fears that arose as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster (follow the link for some amazing NatGeo pictures from inside Fukushima) 11 months ago are at the top of the protester’s rhetoric.  The protesters include at least 9 groups that intend to challenge the project in Federal court. 

The new reactors will be Westinghouse’s Generation III+, AP1000 design.  The long term plan for America’s fleet of aging nuclear reactors includes the replacement of the pre-1970’s era General Electric boiling water reactor design with the advanced safety and technology package found in the AP1000.  The Vogtle project will be a significant first step in the badly needed technology refresh for American nuclear power.

One would think that protesters with Fukushima fears would be eager to see these new safer reactor technologies deployed.  Even the most ardent environmentalists have started to see the light that nuclear power has advantages over fossil fuel power generation technologies.  These warming views on nuclear power have been reinforced in recent weeks by controversies surrounding hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas and Federal roadblocks to use of oil extracted from Canadian tar sands.  

If approved, Vogtle Units 2 and 3 could be a major boon to economic development throughout the Southeastern Region.  According to Georgia Trend Magazine, “Site construction employment is expected to peak at 3,500 jobs during 2013 and 2014, with 800 new permanent employees needed to staff the new units when they begin operation in 2016 and 2017.”

In addition, the availability of plenty of electrical power will be an attractive feature for all types of industrial and commercial enterprises looking for new location.  Data center site selection criteria, in particular, values the availability of cheap, reliable and plentiful power very highly. 

Hopefully, the NRC will approve Southern Company’s construction license and the construction of Vogtle Units 2 and 3 will move forward.  This will lead to:

  • High paying construction jobs
  • Long term employment opportunities for nuclear trained personnel
  • New incentives for employers seeking to locate in the Southeast
  • A favorable environment for future data center construction
  • More reliable and safe nuclear power technology deployed in the US
  • And (of course) reduced dependence on foreign oil          

   

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Bechtel looking for warm bodies with Nuclear experience for North Alabama project.

Many veterans of the Naval Nuclear Power program find their way into the data center industry.  The skills “nukes” develop in the Navy lend themselves very well to the data center/mission critical environment.  As a result, nukes are highly sought after by a variety of data centers and professional services firms.   I include this post here mostly for their benefit.  However, it’s also interesting to see that power companies in the Southeast are busy adding capacity and resiliency to their power generation infrastructure.

If you have been listening to the radio in the Atlanta area you may have heard an advertisement by engineering/construction giant Bechtel.  The ad stated that they were looking for people with any type of nuclear power background. 

Curious about what was going on, I dropped by their job fair at the Atlanta Sheraton to get the scoop.  I had a terrific meeting with some of Bechtel’s nuclear engineers.  They explained that the mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Power Station in North Alabama had received TVA approval and funding for completion.  These guys were beating the bushes for nuke resumes in anticipation of a major staffing effort in the very near future. 

I don’t have a degree in nuclear engineering and I haven’t worked in nuclear power in 13 years.  Yet, I sailed past the screeners on the strength of complete Naval Nuclear Power training pipeline and fleet qualifications through Watch Supervisor.  The hiring managers I met with nodded, smiled and made approving noises while looking at my resume.  I gathered that my 13 years in data center engineering, construction and operation was nice but didn’t knock their socks off.    

The project has an approved construction permit, approval by the TVA and importantly, funding.    

This may be a good opportunity for some former nukes looking for their next adventure.  This linkgoes to the Bechtel website with upcoming career fair dates and an online portal for submitting an application. 

Bellefonte Nuclear Power Station