The red clay landscape of rural Georgia may seem like an unlikely setting for technological innovation in the nuclear energy industry.
The expansion of Plant Vogtle is the largest construction project in the state’s history. The project is midway through building two state-of-the-art reactors that will power 500,000 homes and businesses. Nearby, Mark Verbeck, a Navy veteran and second-generation industry leader, is training the men and women who will operate the massive electricity-producing machines.
“I’m one of 5,000 workers building the future of nuclear energy,” says Verbeck. “Nuclear plant construction is creating jobs and growing local economies around the world.”
As Georgia Power’s manager for reactor operators training at full-scale, digital simulators, Verbeck oversees the development of a next generation workforce in the nuclear industry. New employees across the nation are joining the 100,000-person workforce at 100 reactors that produce one-fifth of America’s electricity.
Esperanza Lapaix recognized opportunity evolving in the nuclear industry five years ago. Lapaix, whose family emigrated from Cuba, graduated from the nuclear energy program at Miami Dade College and was hired by Florida Power and Light as a technician at the company’s Turkey Point nuclear plant.
Lapaix told The New York Times that she was a computer technician, working at a community college and elsewhere, earning half the salary she does at FPL. Now, with “a reliable, great-paying job,” she is the first member of her family to own a home.
Chris Wolfe, a senior auxiliary operator at the V.C. Summer nuclear station in South Carolina, was playing golf on the LPGA tour in 2007. She left the tour for the nuclear profession when the recession took a bite out of her sponsorships – and paychecks.
Wolfe’s father, who worked at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, encouraged his daughter to study engineering at Vanderbilt University while on a golf scholarship. That advice turned out to be more valuable that any instruction on the golf course.
At Sweeney High School in South Texas, employees from the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Co. are mentoring 16 high-achieving 11th and 12th-grade girls in a unique program that provides the tools, academic support, and mentoring needed to pursue career opportunities related to science, technology, engineering, and math.
Women professionals from the South Texas Project and other partner industries provide mentoring to POWER SET (Powerful Opportunities for Women Eager and Ready for Science, Engineering and Technology) members, who in turn, mentor younger students in their school or community.
The nuclear energy industry provides opportunity for professionals and skilled craft workers from all walks and with a diversity of skill sets. It is an industry that builds communities, through economic development, significant tax contributions and the involvement of employees in their community.
In the Carolinas, the nuclear energy industry directly provides 29,000 jobs, has more than $2.2 billion in direct payroll, and more than $950 million paid in state and local taxes, according to a 2013 analysis by Clemson University.
Other nuclear energy facilities provide similar large-scale benefits in their states and communities. The Seabrook reactor in New Hampshire has a $1 billion economic impact each year on that state and bordering Massachusetts.
And in California, the Diablo Canyon nuclear energy facility boasts an annual economic impact of $2 billion nationwide, including $1.1 billion in California, and $920 million in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, according to a study led by the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business.
|Georgia Power's Mark Verbeck|
“The benefits to the local economy are wages from workers and taxes for our tax base,” says Verbeck. “The wages are good and the skills required and technology are high. It’s a place you can work and feel good about your job. Looking into the future, we will operate these plants for 60 years so generations will be working at these plants.”