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Nuke works well in community

Talk about alternative energy and generally the first to come to mind is nuclear energy. It’s familiar to everyone.

Certainly, with the purchase of 5,600 acres in Dallas County by Alabama Power Co., the thought of nuclear power plant construction has crossed many minds and has been spoken about at church socials and over tables in coffee shops.

Alabama Power officials say they have yet to decide what kind of plant to construct in Dallas County on that acreage purchased late last year. But the key right now as Dallas County looks at the third highest unemployment rate in the state are the jobs such construction could generate.

“There is no doubt that construction and jobs available with a power plant would be economically viable for Dallas County and the Black Belt region,” said Pat Wylie, director for corporate communications for Alabama Power. “When we can do that, it’s a good thing.”

So far, though, no licenses for construction have shown up in the public record.

Southern Nuclear Operating Co., a sister company to Alabama Power, Mississippi Power Co. and other subsidiaries under the Southern Company umbrella, is one of 21 utility companies last year that filed for permission to build one of 34 power plants nationwide.

In March 2008 Southern Nuclear Operating Co. asked to build two new reactors at the Vogtle Nuclear Site near Augusta in Burke County, Ga. Vogtle Nuclear Site 1 and 2 was finished during the 1980s. Workers are tearing down old buildings from the two reactors to make space for new construction, according to documents filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There are no new requests by Southern Nuclear Operating Co. to build new nuclear power plants in Alabama.

Southern Nuclear Operating Co. runs the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan in southeast Alabama. Construction of that plant began in 1970. Unit 1 went online in December 1977 and Unit 2 began operation in July 1981. The total cost of the plant was about $1.57 billion.

Since 1977, Farley has generated more than 200 billion kilowatts of electricity, according to Southern Co. officials. The world’s consumption of electricity does not even total 30 billion kilowatts, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The other Southern Nuclear Operating Co. plant is the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant near Baxley in southeastern Georgia. It is owned jointly by Georgia Power (50.2 percent), Oglethorpe Power Corp. (30 percent), the Municipal Electrical Authority of Georgia (17.7 percent) and the City of Dalton, Ga. (2.2 percent). Construction of Hatch began in 1968. Unit 1 went online in December 1975 and Unit 2 went online in September 1979. The plant cost $934 million to build.

Plenty of employment and benefits come with construction of power plants, according to Wylie, who calls the relation between the communities and Alabama Power “almost symbiotic,” meaning as the area served by the company grows, that’s a benefit to the company and the communities. The power company works closely with economic and political leaders in Dallas County and elsewhere to help bring in growth or encourage other industries to locate within those areas.

“If we can help the area grow economically, it helps the potential of purchasing our product,” Wylie said.

Those that live nearby nuclear plants also experience benefits.

Beth Thomas, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear Operating Co. at the Farley Plant, said Southern Nuclear employs about 800 full-time workers at each of its plants in Georgia and Alabama.

These employees live and work in the communities that surround the power plants. They contribute to the economy by living and shopping in the area. And those employees contribute to the quality of life in their communities through volunteer efforts, Thomas explained.

The company partners with local groups and schools to provide a better life in the area. For example, last summer Thomas Moorer, an employee of Southern Nuclear Operating Co., showed a group of economic development leaders in the area how improved transportation on the Apalachicola-Chatahoochee-Flint River system could improve the economy and the quality of life in the region through the development of more marinas and boating areas.

While representatives of Southern Nuclear Operating Co. would not talk specifics about salaries, Thomas said these are more than minimum wage jobs, but because of the different classification of workers no average salary is available. “We have a whole range of workers with different backgrounds and skill sets.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry, claims that salaries of workers at nuclear power plants range above an area’s average salary. U.S. Census figures show the median income for a household in Dallas County in 2000 as $23,370 and the median income for a family was $29,906.

The NEI also points out that the average nuclear plant produces about $430 million annually in expenditures for goods, services and labor and annual state and local tax revenue of more than $20 million.