'Nuclear academy' would benefit area, state and nation

(This editorial first appeared in The People-Sentinel Jan. 14, 2009)

If there was an overall theme to the discussion occurring at the legislative workshop attended Jan. 8 by South Carolina lawmakers and state media, it was "Where has the money gone and where can it be found?"

Money for state operations and government has become like bugs scuttling away from the harsh accounting light of this new year and its 118th legislative session.

The General Assembly is already poring over the state budget looking for new ways to cut expenses while seeking new revenues.

In the meantime, Barnwell County, like the rest of the state, is feeling the pinch. State and county agencies are either shrinking their costs, laying off employees or reducing operating hours. The Barnwell County Council passed a motion Jan. 6 which will have county employees taking off five days unpaid. This furlough will save the county $115,000 in salaries and benefits.
Not a pretty financial picture statewide.

However, just as the state is looking for new sources of money, so too should Barnwell County. The eventual arrival of Horsehead Corp. and Unitech's industrial expansion will nearly offset the closing of the Barnwell Milliken plant.

However, this will not quite maintain status quo for the job levels in the county.

During the legislative workshop, South Carolina's energy conditions and future were discussed. Here again, the state needs to play "catch-up" in terms of developing its energy-producing potential both in terms of merely meeting a growing state population, but also to position the state better against national competition for industrial - hence economic - development.

South Carolina generates about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

However, construction of a new nuclear power plant is at least a 10-year project. Yet the need will be there for more nuclear plants both in the state and nationally. These nuclear plants require highly trained crews.

Barnwell County is already comfortable with nuclear energy beccause of the Savannah River Site.

With the existing infrastructure and intrinsic resources available in the area, what if a nuclear "training" academy were established here?

The "academy" would include an actual, electricity-producing, working nuclear reactor. Crews from the control rooms of nuclear plants nationally (or even globally) could be rotated here to hone their training and go through staged scenarios of possible emergencies.

Such a nuclear academy would likely work off the same operational template as one of our newest industrial neighbors, GTI, which rotates police and paramilitary here for training scenarios.

The benefits of such a nuclear academy could be enormous. The economy of this region would be boosted incredibly by such as project and provide a steady influx of visitors into the region. The surrounding area would also benefit from the electricity produced by an actual working nuclear reactor (but probably on a much smaller scale than what is at Plant Vogtle). The plant itself would need a permanent staff, hopefully gleaned from the local area. The academy would likely need the business of the same auxiliary businesses that now service SRS.

This is an idea that state legislators, local officials and industries should explore because this area - by its very nature - is already predisposed to such a facility.