My Google Alert summary on “new nuclear power plants” this morning is chock full of articles from major news publications like the Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney.com, Forbes, International Herald Tribune, and the New York Times. All of them are pointing to signs that the sleeping giant – the heavy manufacturing industry that will be involved in building new nuclear power plants – is continuing to stir and gain momentum.
We have been talking about the coming nuclear age for several years, but most of the activity has been in the form of paperwork in office buildings. It is easy to overlook and fairly simple to dismiss by people who are not interested in promoting the fact that nuclear power competes successfully against fossil fuels in a number of measures of effectiveness. It is more difficult to overlook new manufacturing facilities that make large parts for new plants.
The sticking point that has slowed the nuclear revival is the perception that nuclear power is not fiscally rewarding work. That perception comes disguised as a concern about cost, schedule, a lack of currently operating infrastructure or a lack of currently available skilled workers, but the reality is that it is a concern that should only discourage lazy people not willing to tackle solvable problems head on.
It is a problem that scares people who think of work as a transitory part of their life plan – those people who populate office buildings in New York and other financial capitals and believe that it should be routinely possible to earn enough money in 5 or 10 years so that they never have to work again. Nuclear power is not a get rich quick scheme, but it can provide very satisfying returns for those who are willing to invest the appropriate amount of time and effort.
Most of us live in a world where work is something that fills up 30-50% of the total time available for most of our lives. It is where we get up and go every day and do something that others consider worth enough money so that we can feed, house and clothe our families. Maybe, if we save carefully and work steadily, our jobs will also provide enough income and benefits to allow us send our children to good colleges and enough to spend a couple of decades in relative comfort in retirement.
In the go-go years, there were not enough people in financial capitals that thought that investing in nuclear power was a good idea, mainly because the payoff would not come in their favored 5-7 year horizon. They seemed to prefer securitized mortgages where they could collect origination fees, packaging fees and bonuses almost immediately.
Fortunately, there are still a few patient leaders in the industrial world that understand that long lasting value often takes a bit longer. According to the articles that attracted my attention this morning, two members of that leadership are graduates of elite school systems that are known for producing people willing to work hard and to master difficult, numerically definable tasks. Both of those school systems are open to all, as long as they can pass the entrance exams and a selection process that includes efforts to measure character and willingness to serve.
One of the featured leaders is Anne Lauvergeon, the CEO of Areva, who graduated from the French National School of Mining Engineer (“Ecole des Mines”) and the French “Ecole Normale Supérieure” and one is a former colleague of mine named Mike Petters, the President of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, who graduated from the same technical training pipeline (US Naval Academy, followed by naval nuclear power training and submarine service) as I did. (Like many of my former colleagues, Mike has achieved a bit more worldly success than I have – so far (grin)).
These two leaders have just inked a deal that may have long term implications for a new generation of engineers, technicians and people that like clean, safe, reliable, inexpensive electricity. (That means most of us, by the way.) Their companies have formed a $360 million joint venture that will initially employ 500 skilled workers to manufacture components for nuclear power plants in Newport News, Virginia, adjacent to Northrop Grumman’s shipyard.
The company will make pressure vessels, heat exchangers, and other heavy components in an automated facility. Both members of the joint venture have decades worth of experience in nuclear plant manufacturing – Areva is building plants all over the world and Northrop Grumman is one of the two companies in the US that have continuously been assembling new nuclear power plants – for ships – throughout the past 50 fifty years.
In a time of economic distress for many, with stories about company executives who took the money and ran, it is nice to read about people who are leading companies that are investing and building for the future.
- New York Times – Nuclear Power May Be in Early Stages of a Revival
- International Herald Tribune – After 30 slow years, U.S. nuclear industry set to build plants again
- CNNMoney – Nuclear power revival gets big lift
- Bloomberg – Areva, Northrop to Build Nuclear Reactor Parts Plant (Update2)