The Chattanooga Free Press published a story titled Nuclear power heating up in the August 23, 2009 edition. The extensive article details investments in new manufacturing and training facilities designed to provide parts and employees for both new construction and existing plant refurbishment. Though the total new employment numbers are fairly low at this point compared to the peak employment reached in Chattanooga in the nuclear components manufacturing industry in the first Atomic Age, there is cautious optimism that the facilities will expand as the plant construction projects begin in the next 3-4 years.
In the meantime, Westinghouse is training welders and technicians, Alstom is building a fabrication facility for turbines and other components and hiring employees to operate it, TVA is supporting the construction completion at Watts Bar II, University of Tennessee has become the third largest nuclear engineering program in the country, Chattanooga State Technical Community College has implemented a radiation protection program and is planning a non-destructive testing training program, and Chicago Bridge & Iron is planning a nuclear components fabrication facility down the Tennessee River in South Pittsburg.
In a time when there are close to half a million Americans are losing their jobs each month, it is still relatively amazing that groups like Bellefonte Effficiency and Sustainability Team continue to fight against nuclear plant investments largely based on cost arguments. They do not seem to understand that most of those costs are invested in American worker salaries in jobs ranging from unskilled helpers to highly sophisticated engineering and project management positions. They do not understand that the completed plants will provide reliable, low cost, emission free electricity for many decades into the future, while at the same time providing hundreds of jobs at wages suitable for raising families and building livable communities. Unlike wind turbine and solar panel production, which can be, and often is, located anywhere in the world, power plant construction and operations jobs cannot be moved off shore.
There is no doubt that the nuclear industry jobs will require individual investments in training and responsible personal behavior. People with demonstrated histories of criminal behavior, drug use, or unreliability will not be successful in finding employment in the nuclear industry, but people who are willing to work hard can succeed even if they do not start out with outstanding educational records. I have met many people over the past 15-20 years in the nuclear industry who began as helpers, welders, technical support staff and equipment operators who found out that their employers were very supportive of educational and development programs.
No wonder Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker and Zach Wamp believe so strongly that investing in new nuclear power is good for the nation and good for their home state of Tennessee.