Each spring visitors of a special kind arrive in the sleepy little coastal town of Southport, N.C. These visitors come with great purpose and bring with them a mini-economic boom for this small town and many others like it across the entire country.
Southport, a town of 3,000 residents, is accustomed to visitors. Each year the population swells as tourists flock to the area for summer vacations. Situated at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, Southport is a hub of activity for those headed to Bald Head Island, the nearby island community known for its affluent clientele, or Oak Island that sits across the intracoastal waterway. The tourists give the area a massive economic boost with estimates of well over 100,000 people visiting the area each year. That impact is typically limited to the time frame between Memorial Day and Labor Day, creating a vibrant summertime village with busy art galleries and restaurants.
During the remainder of the year, the town resembles any other small town in North Carolina with residents going about their normal routine. But because Southport is home to one of Duke Energy’s nuclear power plants, the town enjoys extra benefits, including well-paying jobs and a stable tax base that supports the entire county. Each spring, when the plant shuts down for refueling and maintenance, additional temporary jobs come open and local businesses enjoy the influx of outage workers.
Outage season typically lasts for 30-60 days and brings both challenges and benefits. Although the number of workers fluctuates each year, the arrival of these workers stimulates the local economy, especially for businesses offering services such as lodging, dining and entertainment. Residents notice increased traffic and might have to call ahead for reservations at their local restaurants, but most recognize more upsides than down.
Quantifying the impact of outage season is challenging, but the Nuclear Energy Institute has taken some of the best data from across the country to build a generic model of how outages stimulate local economies. In Southport, the local hotels and motels report near capacity occupancy rates, while the restaurants introduce special hours designed to attract outage workers. As one resident puts it, “you can tell it is outage season when you see specials starting at 7 a.m.” When you consider the larger picture, there are about 100 towns just like Southport across the country that benefit when outage workers arrive.
During a typical outage, workers at the plant will replace approximately one-third of the fuel, conduct inspections and make repairs and upgrades. Some of the work is highly specialized but there are also jobs for welders, pipe-fitters and crane operators. Unlike the more stereotypical construction worker, nuclear outage workers are a special breed who understand the unique environment they work in, the importance of safety and why utilities work to complete the work as efficiently as possible. Outage workers have to pass a series of background checks and investigations to earn the chance to work at a nuclear plant.