Should the U.S follow France and produce more electricity using nuclear power? How much power? Where should these nuclear power plants be located? Upwind of New York City and Boston? Have people gotten over their fears of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl? Has technological advance made enough progress to sharply reduce the probability of future "meltdowns"?
This NYT article below argues that some small southern towns are trying to lure nuclear plants to locate there. Is this a "domestic pollution haven"? Or do these towns project that by luring such plants that they will have a "multiplier" effect lowering the price of local energy and attracting other businesses that are energy intensive?
April 10, 2006
Town Sees Nuclear Plans as a Boon, Not a Threat
By RICK LYMAN
GAFFNEY, S.C. — Bill Whelchel, working the main chair at Elmore's Barber Shop on Limestone Street, paused the clippers above his customer's half-sculptured crew cut to consider the question of atomic energy.
"I'm not worried at all about putting in a new nuclear power plant," said Mr. Whelchel, 76. "We're used to nuclear power around here. Plus, it'll create jobs, and one thing I've learned is that working people are happy people."
More than a quarter century after the accident at Three Mile Island and two decades after Chernobyl, America's utilities stand at the early edge of what promises to be the first large-scale wave of nuclear plant construction since the 1980's.
And the energy companies are finding — especially in the small, struggling Southeastern towns like Gaffney where most of the plants are planned — that memories of those tragedies have faded and that local governments and residents, eager for jobs and tax revenues to replace vanished industries, are embracing them with enthusiasm.
Indeed, none of Mr. Whelchel's half-dozen customers said they had any problem whatsoever with the idea of a nuclear facility going up down the road.
"I can't remember hearing a single negative comment from any local resident," Cody Sossamon, publisher of The Gaffney Ledger, said as he sat in his office out near the highway.
Driven partly by federal Department of Energy projections that demand for electrical power will increase 50 percent by 2025, and by recent federal legislation offering a more streamlined application process and financial incentives for new nuclear facilities, many utilities are eager to get back into the atomic business.
"We initially were looking at 14 communities in the Southeast, and then we narrowed that down to four," said Henry B. Barron Jr., chief nuclear officer for Duke Power, which announced last month that it would apply to build its first new nuclear plant in three decades just outside Gaffney. "I found no single individual who had any concerns about the plant. The few who did have concerns were worried about increased traffic on the roads during construction."
In a March report, Fitch Ratings, a global financial research company, said: "It is no longer a matter of debate whether there will be new nuclear plants in the industry's future. Now, the discussion has shifted to predictions of how many, where and when."
How many remains to be seen. Nine utilities have said they will apply to build as many as 19 new nuclear units, but that does not mean all of them will be built.
As to where, the list includes every state south of Maryland that touches either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, except Texas, and one facility in central Illinois. And the sites tend to be in rural counties whose hard-pressed small towns — like Gaffney, population 13,000 — clutch at the chance for new jobs and tax revenue.
"The timeline that Duke gave us was that the application process would take three to five years," said James P. Inman, executive director of the Cherokee County Development Board, which led the local drive to attract the new plant. "Then they'd build the first unit, and it would go online around 2015. At least, that's the least optimistic projection. We think it could happen as early as 2012."
Wanting the plant was a no-brainer for Gaffney, Mr. Inman said.
Some 1,500 new jobs are expected in the construction phase of the $4 billion to $6 billion facility, and then running the plant will take 1,000 employees. In addition, the plant is to pay $8.5 million in annual taxes, to be split between the county and the state.
"You add to that the new home construction and the new businesses and it looks to be a really good things for this community and this county," Mr. Sossamon said.
If residents of the communities do seem eager for the plants, it is not entirely unanimous. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, based in North Carolina, said earlier this month that it intended to oppose construction of the plant outside Gaffney.
To attract Duke, county officials agreed to a package of financial incentives, pretty much the same combination of tax breaks offered by the other counties in North and South Carolina that were finalists for the plant. But Gaffney also promised to establish new science, math and engineering courses in local schools to make sure Duke finds people to hire if the plant opens.
"We're looking at the kids who are in fifth grade," Mr. Inman said. "Those are the ones who need to start getting ready now for the jobs that are coming. That way they won't have to move away to find work if they don't want to."
Founded in 1803 at the intersection of two Indian trails and named for the first man to open a store here, Gaffney has seen better days. For decades, textile mills dominated the town, employing thousands of local residents.
But now all of the big old mills have closed. From 1999 to 2003 alone, 2,500 textile employees lost their jobs. A few smaller companies have come in to build newer and smaller mills, but now the biggest employer is a Stouffer's frozen food plant on the outskirts of town.
Gaffney's downtown today is a grid of small gift shops, bank branches, pawnshops and dozens of empty storefronts. On a recent weekday morning, Elmore's Barber Shop had the biggest crowd. The only crane rising above downtown was in the process of tearing down the last of the big textile mills.
For those from outside the area, Gaffney is probably best known for the annual South Carolina Peach Festival, for the huge water tower beside Interstate 85 in the shape of a giant peach and for the sprawling outlet mall — roughly midway between Charlotte, N.C., and Spartanburg, S.C. — that locals call the "yellow mall," for its egg yolk color.
The prospective plant site is about a half-hour southeast of town, on 2,000 sloping acres beside the Broad River that Duke had previously considered for a nuclear plant, 30 years ago, before declining demand and increasing public anxiety about nuclear power caused them to drop the plan. The land had since passed into the hands of another utility, the Southern Company, which will be Duke's partner in the new facility.
L. Hoke Parris, who retired from a local brick-making factory before beginning a political career that has seen him become chairman of the Cherokee County Council, said he was not surprised that the town and its residents had no problem welcoming atomic energy into their community.
"The financial impact here will be phenomenal," Mr. Parris said. "Right now, downtown's pretty much dead. Pretty much all we've got is Wal-Mart and the yellow mall."
Besides, he said, there have been nuclear facilities around the region for decades, and he thinks residents in the Carolinas have gotten used to them.
"I think people are just pretty much comfortable with nuclear power in this part of the country," Mr. Parris said. "We're getting farther away from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island."