Nuclear cluster seeks to expand regional supply chain

Staff Report
Published Dec. 4, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolinas’ $20 billion a year nuclear industry can grow even larger through developing the region’s supply chain, according to a recent economic impact study for the Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster.

Prime candidates for expanding the industry’s supply chain are companies that provide maintenance and instrumentation upgrades at nuclear facilities in the Carolinas and United States, according to cluster members.

Jim Little, chairman of the Carolina's Nuclear Cluster
Jim Little, chairman of the Carolina's Nuclear Cluster
Scott Mason, supply chain researcher at Clemson University
Scott Mason, supply chain researcher at Clemson University
“The Carolinas’ Nuclear Cluster has encouraged additional suppliers to locate and grow their businesses in the Carolinas,” said Jim Little, a 40-year veteran of the industry and chairman of the nuclear cluster. “These suppliers can provide materials to the nuclear industry, domestically and multinationally, as well as other industries.”

Examples include industrial supply firms, valve manufacturers, motor and pump makers, design firms, maintenance companies and services firms, such as security companies and laboratories.

Some firms that already supply components for power plants fueled by coal and natural gas might be able to serve nuclear facilities if the parts are not involved in safety-related areas of the plant.

Also manufacturers might be able to obtain nuclear safety certification for some products. That’s because the difference between components for a nuclear facility and those for a fossil-fired power plant has to do with testing and quality control tracking. In many cases, the manufacturer can obtain the necessary certification without having to spend a lot of money or increasing production costs, proponents say.

The ability of companies to sell materials across the supply chain of nuclear and other energy generation sources can help firms maintain a portfolio of sales opportunities and strengthen the supplier’s business position, said Little, strategic adviser for the URS Power Group and retired senior vice president of Fort Mill, S.C.-based URS’ nuclear energy programs.

“The Carolinas Nuclear Cluster is working to build a strong industry network, because we understand this country must have a balanced generation portfolio,” Little said.

The Carolinas’ cluster represents more than 50 companies, colleges, and tech schools in North Carolina and South Carolina involved in the nuclear power industry.

Presently the Carolinas are home to eight nuclear power plants, four each in North Carolina and South Carolina. In addition, two Westinghouse 1,117-megawatt reactor units are under construction at South Carolina’s V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, 28 miles northwest of the state capital of Columbia.

The $9.8 billion program at V.C. Summer is one of two new nuclear projects to be licensed and built in the United States in three decades. The other project is being built by Southern Co. at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Ga.

The nuclear supply chain could be bolstered by the development of small modular reactors, which are units that generate less than 300 megawatts and designed to be built in a factory and hauled to power plant site.

Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox Co., which won the first round of U.S. Energy Department funding potentially worth $226 million, said it is working with more than 200 suppliers across 33 states to develop its small reactor unit along with Bechtel Corp. and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

One of the Energy Department’s stipulations for obtaining funding for a small reactor unit is that its suppliers must be located in the United States.

The economic impact study conducted by researchers at Clemson University’s Center of Economic Excellence in Supply Chain Optimization found that the Carolinas nuclear industry provides 29,000 jobs.

The cascading effect of dollars created by the nuclear industry adds another estimated $2 billion in indirect payroll, so that some 100,000 jobs are touched by the nuclear industry for a total of $4.2 billion in payroll.

Additionally, the industry — including nuclear power plants and vendors working at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. — accounts for a direct payroll of $2.2 billion a year and pays more than $950 million in state and local taxes.

“Residents and businesses in the Carolinas receive real economic benefits from the nuclear industry through jobs, income creation and the multiplier of spending,” said Scott Mason, a supply chain researcher at Clemson University’s industrial engineering department. “This study not only looked at the impact of operating nuclear plants, but also producers of nuclear fuel, engineering and procurement companies, suppliers, and contractors, and others.”

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