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Carolinas nuclear industry worth $20 billion a year, study says

Oconee Nuclear Station
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The Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C. - one of the oldest nuclear power plants in the United States. AP file photo

The Carolinas nuclear industry has an economic impact of more than $20 billion a year, says a Clemson University study commissioned by the Carolinas Nuclear Cluster.

The two states are home to seven nuclear plants, six of them owned by Charlotte-based Duke Energy. Nuclear power supplies about one-third of North Carolina’s electricity and more than half of South Carolina’s.

Four new reactors are under construction near Columbia and in Georgia. Most U.S. companies that design, build, supply and maintain nuclear plants have a presence in Charlotte.

The report also includes employment at the Savannah River Site, a federal installation near Aiken, S.C., that once produced nuclear-bomb material, and South Carolina’s Barnwell nuclear waste disposal facility.

$2.2 billion payroll

The industry employs 29,000 workers with a $2.2 billion annual payroll, the report says, and it pays more than $950 million in state and local taxes.

Spending by the companies and their employees adds another $2 billion in indirect payroll, affecting another 100,000 jobs.

Existing nuclear plants support the greatest share of industry employees (8,125) and direct economic impacts ($7.2 billion), the report says. New construction generated 4,221 jobs and contributed $2.7 billion to the economy.

The Carolinas Nuclear Cluster, which involves companies, academics and nonprofit groups, operates under the umbrella of the trade association E4 Carolinas.

“People in the industry know each other well,” said Jim Little, a retired URS Corp. executive who is chairman of the nuclear cluster. “But we often encounter people who don’t know the nuclear industry is here. They think it’s only Duke Energy.”

Despite the construction under way in South Carolina and Georgia, the ballyhooed U.S. nuclear renaissance never emerged as the economy tanked and demand for electricity flat-lined.

But with 87 percent of the Carolinas nuclear impact stemming from existing power plants and associated sectors, Little said, there will be plenty of work well into the future.

The existing fleet will need to perform longer, replace obsolete technology and compete with low-priced natural gas, he said. The loss of talent from an aging workforce, from engineers to welders, is the industry’s biggest worry.

Impact possibly tripled

A similar study, produced in 2009, put the total direct and indirect economic impact of the two-state nuclear industry at $8.4 billion a year. The new analysis puts that figure at $27.7 billion in 2012, reflecting new construction, companies moving into the region and growth among community businesses.

It’s hard to gauge how much construction at the Summer and Vogtle nuclear plants contributed to that growth, said William Ferrell, a Clemson industrial engineering professor who worked on the study. Clemson’s Center of Economic Excellence in Supply Chain Optimization and Logistics did the study.

Because the earlier study didn’t detail its assumptions or calculations, the Clemson researchers caution against comparing the two. They estimate the total economic impact at $20 billion to $25 billion a year, saying it’s a conservative estimate that accounts for potential double-counting of revenues.

The cluster sees growth prospects in attracting more companies that offer maintenance and instrumentation upgrades to nuclear plants. Those suppliers include valve manufacturers, motor and pump motors, design firms, and security and lab services.

The group also says companies can grow by selling materials not only for the nuclear supply chain but other forms of energy generation.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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