Friday, April 04, 2014

From Monkeys to Nuclear Energy in Rhea County

We often talk about the economic boon that nuclear energy plants bring the counties and towns in which they are located. This is true of many types of big industrial structures, of course, which tend to locate in relatively out-of-the-way places – they are, however you cut it, big structures and need room to spread out. (well, wind farms aren’t big per se, but they certainly do spread out.)

So you could say that what is true of a nuclear energy plant is also true of a coal plant or gas works. Workers like to be in their vicinity. Why?

The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant has turned into one of East Tennessee's biggest employers with 5,000 TVA and contractor employees working around the clock to build a new reactor and refuel another.

"These workers are eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores and staying at area hotels and campgrounds and that is putting a lot of needed money into our economy," said Rhea County Mayor George Thacker, who built the 42-room Howard Johnson hotel in Spring City seven years ago to help house Watts Bar workers. "Watts Bar is a great asset for our region."

Outage workers – that’s unique to nuclear energy. I wouldn’t have guessed that outages happen frequently enough to justify a Holiday Inn, but business there will only increase when Watts Bar has two reactors (Unit 2 will start up next year) rather than one. And at all the other businesses in Rhea County, too.

Writer Dave Flessner allows for a bit of trolling:

"There's more than providing jobs in the here and now," said Garry Morgan, an anti-nuclear activist for BEST (Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team). "In the long term, we have no solution for the storage of the radioactive wastes from these plants and ratepayers eventually have to pay the enormous expense of these facilities. There are far more jobs at much less cost from energy conservation and efficiency."

I’m not sure there are “far more jobs” from using less energy  – the arguments for energy efficiency are strong but the jobs picture isn’t the strongest one. But you’ve got to have something to say. It’s also worth pointing out that having nuclear energy in the mix makes electricity less expensive not more.

In any event, Flessner’s story may well have been motivated by the co-chair of the Clean and Safe (CASE) Energy Coalition dropping by for a visit.

[Ron] Kirk, who also is a former mayor of Dallas, visited Watts Bar this week and said Friday he was impressed by the size of the workforce and the workers commitment to safety.

"I spend most of my time highlighting the clean air advantages and reliability of nuclear power, but as a former mayor who worked a lot of economic development I was struck by seeing 5,000 workers at that plant," Kirk said. "Watts Bar is the real economic lifeblood of that community. They've had more than 23 million work hours without an accident, which really shows the professionalism of those workers and their commitment to safety."

The other co-chair, by the way, is former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

One thing you can say about nuclear advocates, they don’t make wispy statements. They don’t have to – the benefits of the plant are manifest and Kirk just says them out loud. He almost doesn’t need to say anything – Rhea County is clearly well aware of the value of Watts Bar.


Rhea County (which is about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville) is most notable outside its locality for hosting the Scopes “monkey” trial in 1925, which became a bonanza for the yellow journalists of its day (and early radio – it was the first broadcast trial). It was so sensational that it attracted the services of two very highly regarded men, William Jennings Bryant. the former U.S. Secretary of State, and Clarence Darrow, the most famous attorney of his time and an early civil libertarian (as we understand the term now), to argue for the county and for teacher John Scopes respectively.

Obviously, the topic is much too big for a couple of paragraphs and way, way outside the brief of this blog. So you can research it further on your own.

But that’s Rhea County – which has a Scopes Trial Trail for you to follow if you’re so inclined.


SteveK9 said...

"In the long term, we have no solution for the storage of the radioactive wastes ..."

We really have to kill this. Of course this is not a technically correct statement. There are lots of solutions, including leaving the fuel where it is, until we (or someone else) burn it in fast reactors.

If you are talking politics, well then the same people that say we have no solution, are the reason for that. Just a little disingenuous.

But, if you talk to an average member of the public, these are the first words out of their mouths. This mantra has been very effective by opponents.

'But ... but ... but ... what will we do with the WASTE ... followed by some wailing. It would help to open Yucca mountain I suppose, although long term I am certain we will just be digging it up again to use it.

Mitch said...

>> But ... but ... but ... what will we do with the WASTE ... followed by some wailing. It would help to open Yucca mountain I suppose, although long term I am certain we will just be digging it up again to use it. <<

Right, and it's going to take a lot of rigorious ad education work to turn that around. It's got to get out there because just sticking on the web isn't going to cut it.