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Global Carolina Profile: New Carolina Nuclear Cluster

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COLUMBIA, SC – What does the nuclear industry in the Carolinas have in common with the upstate city of Spartanburg, SC? Among other things, it employs approximately the same number of people as live in the Hub City: some 37,000. And with projections for expansion of the global nuclear energy market from US$50 billion to $300 billion in the next 15 years, that number could more than double.

Global industry growth was one of the many topics covered at the Nuclear Supplier session organized and sponsored by New Carolina and held on 14 May 2010 at Midlands Technical College’s enterprise campus in Columbia, SC. The primary focus of the seminar, however, was how the Carolinas are addressing the challenges that will accompany new growth – and specifically how local educational institutions, economic development organizations, and small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) can fill the engineering, construction, workforce, and supply chain needs of the “new nuclear” industry.

A “New Nuclear” Industry – A New Nuclear Generation
“The nuclear energy sector wasn’t promoted much in the past 30 years,” said session moderator, Scott Carlberg. “The marketing strategy was more or less, ‘Say nothing about it and hope that it survives.’”

As a result of such benign neglect, the industry now faces a figurative and literal generation gap. Outdated technology has frequently left the sector ill-equipped to address the Southeast’s growing energy needs and meanwhile hindered efficiency. More pressingly, with an aging workforce just beginning to exit the field – some 50 percent of the industry’s engineers, technicians, and laborers are expected to retire in the coming years – companies are now eyeing a new generation to move the industry forward.

Although the local nuclear industry currently boasts a supply chain larger than BMW’s, more than $2.2 billion in payroll and earned income of nearly $5 billion, continued expansion is needed to meet the energy demands of the 21st century. As Glenn Marcus, nuclear sourcing manager at SCE&G’s V. C. Summer nuclear station in Jenkinsville, SC, explained, “If you look at the supply chain, the number of nuclear suppliers was gradually increasing in the mid-80s, and then you had Three Mile Island. After that it basically took a nose dive.”

A World of Opportunity
Challenges spark innovation, and opportunity inspires growth. Nowhere else in the country is this more evident than in the Carolinas and bordering states. “If you look at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s map,” Marcus pointed out, “approximately 75% of new planned reactors in the United States are found in Southeast Corridor.”

Six new plants are currently in the works across the Carolinas alone, meaning the greatest immediate potential exists in the areas of plant construction and maintenance. More importantly to the economy of the Carolinas, companies such as SCE&G are looking specifically to local suppliers to fill their needs at sites like V. C. Summer, which has already broken ground on one new reactor and is planning another.

According to Marcus, the most pressing needs at V. C. Summer include:
•    1,000s of nuclear-grade valves and pumps
•    10–20 miles of nuclear-grade piping and some 400 miles of cable
•    100,000 tons of structural and reinforcing steel
•    60–80 years of construction and maintenance

When these new reactors come online in the coming years, the need will expand for qualified technicians and engineers.

Workforce = Economic Development
Ultimately, a strong local workforce is needed to ensure that money being allotted to these new projects stays in the Carolinas. As Carlberg pointed out: “A strong workforce equals strong economic development. If you don’t have a good workforce, companies won’t locate here because they can’t find the right people.”

That’s why anchor companies such as SCANA, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, the Savannah River National Lab, and Shaw Group are teaming up with local colleges to fuel growth. Midlands Technical College, for example, is quickly educating a new generation of nuclear technicians through its nuclear systems technology program. Enrollment in the popular program, which began in the fall of 2009 and was recently awarded $150,000 from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is already at or near capacity. Elsewhere, local economic development agencies such as New Carolina, with its nuclear cluster, are working together to ensure that the Carolinas have the strongest, most well-trained and well-organized workforce in the industry.

A “Global Nuclear Renaissance”
With new clean-energy needs, a scarcity of fossil fuels, and growing public support – both at home and around the world – the nuclear industry is experiencing a sort of global renaissance. And the Carolinas, with its strong nuclear cluster and wealth of global suppliers, are positioned to play a central role in that rebirth.

“We have plans in place for how to make sure that local companies are involved in these projects,” Marcus concluded. “And with some $10 to $15 billion between V. C. Summer, Duke, and Progress Energy to keep in the states instead of sending that money overseas, that’s a tremendous opportunity for the Carolinas.”

About New Carolina and the Carolinas Nuclear Cluster

New Carolina, also known as the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, is the umbrella organization for the Carolinas Nuclear Cluster, a collaboration of 33 entities involved in the nuclear energy industry. The group builds the industry in the Carolinas to help support the economic development of our states.

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