Nuclear energy provides economic lift to North and South Carolina

The North Carolina and South Carolina economies are enjoying a boost from the nuclear energy industry, and the Southeast region needs to position itself to accommodate continued growth, one nuclear energy expert recently said.

“We want to invest in the energy industry in the Carolinas. It is one of the biggest (nuclear energy) clusters in the United States,” James Little, the executive vice president of Nuclear Solutions, U.S. Energy, at Atkins Global, an engineering and project management consultancy, said.

Little, who is based in Charlotte, N.C., said in an interview the nuclear industry employs approximately 25,000 people in the Carolinas and produces more than 50 percent of the power in both states. The industry has an economic benefit of approximately $20 billion a year and a payroll of $2 billion.

Charlotte is home to Duke Energy, while South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and many other nuclear vendors and engineering companies are based in the region.

In addition, two large new nuclear installations are currently under construction in the region. SCE&G and Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility in South Carolina, are building two 1,117-megawatt nuclear electric-generating units at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, S.C. V.C. Summer Unit 1 has been in operation for more than 30 years. Westinghouse Electric Co. is the design contractor.

“In the Southeast, which is heavily nuclear, the prices are very stable, you’ve got a plentiful supply, a very reliable, greenhouse gas-free electrical generation,” Little said. “And for economic reasons, that’s why we are able to attract a lot of business to the Carolinas, because companies coming here want reliable, predictable, dependable sources of energy supply.”

The Carolinas have seen manufacturing returning to the region.

“It’s booming, so to be able to supply that economic growth, we have to make sure the industry is robust and to make sure we have an available workforce to supply it,” Little said.

The energy industry also pulls in other industries to the Carolinas, such as higher education and research and development, according to Little.

Recognizing that the region has a wealth of engineering and energy firms, an energy trade association named E4 Carolinas was formed in 2009, Little said. E4 Carolinas promotes economic growth, employment and productivity by cultivating the Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster. That cluster now has 54 member organizations.