Opinion: Nuke us, please

It’s probably just a coincidence that Progress Energy is holding a big public meeting in Vance County the day after announcing that it wants to build the nation’s first new nuclear power plant in a quarter-century. But it gives us a nice opportunity to get a jump-start on a major economic development project.

The News & Observer reported that the Raleigh-based utility company intends to apply for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to open a nuclear plant using advanced technology.

According to the announcement on the Progress Energy Web site, the company aims to pick a potential site for the reactor by the end of the year. If Progress pushes ahead with the project, it expects to submit the license application by 2008, begin construction by 2010 and start producing electricity by 2015.

“A decision to build another nuclear plant is still several years away and would be based on several factors later this decade, including power market conditions and projections in the area of the proposed plant, competing fuel prices, the regulatory environment at the time, the status of permanent used fuel storage and the ability to obtain financing,” the Progress statement reads.

The N&O says the likely location for a new reactor is next to a current Progress reactor at the Shearon Harris site 25 miles from Raleigh. But we have an alternative suggestion: Why not Vance County?

We can’t imagine Progress would want to fight the media-savvy activists who would rise up in the Triangle area to fight a new reactor there. In Vance, however, we lack the progressive networks of the Triangle, so any opposition would be harder to organize.

Despite the bad public image of nuclear power, we believe that it’s a clean alternative to fossil fuels, which are rising in cost and shrinking in availability.

Most important, we’re desperate for the jobs, unlike the folks an hour or so south of Henderson. Jobs at nuclear plants pay a whole lot better than the fast-food positions that seem to be the staple of the Vance economy. And we’re confident Vance residents can do the work (after all, Homer Simpson works at a nuclear plant).

In addition to a large pool of available workers, we have plenty of cheap land and water, assuming Henderson eventually signs a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers. A nuclear plant not only would ease the unemployment problem, but it would be a huge addition to the county tax base and would instantly move to the top of the list of city water customers.

So we urge Vance Economic Development Director Benny Finch and members of the Economic Development Commission to be proactive and chase after this project. It won’t do anything for us tomorrow, and it might never develop into reality. But it’s a low-risk gamble with a big payoff, and it’s worth taking the chance.