As uncertainty looms at Vogtle, specialized workers not worried

WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WJBF) – Plant Vogtle is at a crucial crossroads. Its main contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. The temporary agreement with Westinghouse ends this Friday. How the plant’s owners, Georgia Power being the largest stakeholder in the project, decide to proceed could impact the thousands of people working on the project in Burke County.

Plant Voglte could totally stop construction on nuclear reactors 3 and 4, which employees the vast majority of its workers. Or it could stop building unit 4 but continue building unit 3, which is close to completion. The company could also decide to continue the project as is, despite an increase to time and cost.

Getting out of Plant Vogtle at rush hour takes some time, even though there’s not much around it for miles.

Some of workers head to Pointers Grill for a drink or a burger after work.

“Everybody likes to come here we have a good time,” said bartender and waitress Abby Taylor. “About like 75 percent of our business comes from the plant, so we rely on it a lot.”

One local business owner tells me that Plant is the lifeblood of the community.

Plant Vogtle employs approximately 6,900 workers, a Georgia Power spokesman says. About 6,000 of them are working on building the new Vogtle 3 and 4 units, but the units’ future, and the workers’, is uncertain.

Should the financially troubled contractor’s parent company, Toshiba , go bankrupt, the project may become too expensive to complete, according to Tim Echols, who sits on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Toshiba said it expects to record a loss of $8.83 billion dollars for the year.

“I’m sure they’re nervous because they don’t really know, but I think they just try to not think about it and wait and see what’s going to happen…and then go with the flow from there,” Taylor said of her customers who work at Vogtle.

A project manager I spoke with says he doubts construction will stop; he says it’s already halfway complete.

But if it is halted, the sunk costs will be passed on to Georgia Power customers, who will have never received any power from the plant.

As for workers, many of them are craft laborers who come down here to work for just a few months at a time. Many of them stay in RV camps while working on the project.

“It’s a very different group of people, but I meet people from all over the world every day,” Taylor said.

Employees say it would be easy for craft laborers to find work elsewhere. But if the project halts, even for a little while, it would be difficult to reassemble the massive labor force, employees say.

A slowdown or pause on Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 could hurt small business like Pointers Grill, or the companies providing RV housing, but workers say finding work wouldn’t be an issue.

One engineer tells me he wouldn’t be upset if he got sent back home. However, unskilled laborers might be hit harder.

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