published Saturday, June 25th, 2011

CB&I Marion nuclear project idle for now

CHICAGO BRIDGE & IRON


Founded: 1889

Products: Large storage vessels, pipelines, structures, plants and similar technologies used by petrochemical and nuclear industries

Employees: 13,000

Headquarters: The Netherlands

Marion County site: 61 acres

Source: Chicago Bridge & Iron website, state and county records

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The combination of a sluggish economy and a recent coolness toward the nuclear industry has stalled a $110 million Chicago Bridge & Iron fabrication plant in Marion County.

“It is in a holding pattern,” county Mayor John Graham said. The proposed plant would produce large nuclear storage vessels that would be shipped by barge to customers worldwide, officials said.

Marion County really needs the 250 to 350 jobs the industry could produce, but the struggling economy and the impact of the Japan earthquake and tsunami on the worldwide nuclear power community were ill-timed, Graham said.

“Japan was not a good omen for our nuclear industry,” he said. The March earthquake damaged Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and raised concerns around the globe.

The only nuclear reactor under construction now in the U.S. is Watts Bar’s Unit 2 reactor in Meigs County, scheduled to go online in 2012. That Tennessee Valley Authority project now is part of an evaluation ordered by President Barack Obama.

Obama charged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with evaluating “lessons learned” from Fukushima.

James Moorman, director of the NRC’s southeast division of construction projects, said Monday that officials are reviewing 500 whistleblower allegations about Watts Bar filed after construction there was halted in 1985. Eventually construction was restarted, and Watts Bar Unit 1 went online in 1996.

Awaiting the moment

Graham said the small metal building the company erected on CB&I’s property in 2009 remains the last sign of development.

“If there’s a good sign, it’s that they still want to hang on to the property,” he said. “They finally got all their [Tennessee Valley Authority and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation] permits, and they’re clear to do whatever they may want to do with it.”

CB&I spokeswoman Jan Sieving said this week that the global company is waiting and watching for an upturn in the national market.

“That prospective facility is dependent on growth in the U.S. nuclear market, which is uncertain at this time,” Sieving said. “If there’s strong growth in the market, a nuclear fabrication shop in New Hope could really provide a strategic advantage for CB&I.”

CB&I paid $1.11 million for 60-odd acres of Tennessee River frontage in 2008 and 2009, according to records at the Marion County Assessors Office. Assessor Judy Brewer said there have been no transactions involving the land since the purchase.

According to applications filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in 2008, plans call for a 500,000-square-foot building and a 4,700-foot extension of a nearby CSX rail line. Other plans include a barge terminal with a crane platform and a 320-foot dock that would extend into the river about 90 feet, record show.

Documents said the site had unique needs found at no other place.

“The manufacturing process requires excellent river, rail and highway access. Sites meeting all three criteria were very limited,” application documents state.

Graham said several grants tied to infrastructure for the project — including almost $700,000 in Appalachian Regional Commission grants for infrastructure improvements — remain in place for the time being but not forever.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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