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Soon after World War II ended and well before today’s concerns over climate change, Steve Bechtel, Sr. became convinced that nuclear energy would revolutionize electric power generation and set Bechtel on a path to a long-term commitment to nuclear power. After all, a piece of uranium fuel the size of a pencil eraser generates as much energy as 2,000 pounds of coal – without emitting greenhouse gases.
In 1948, engineers from Bechtel’s refinery division helped design the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) Van de Graaff nuclear accelerator at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Bechtel’s involvement helped earn a contract to build the AEC’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR-1) in Idaho in late 1949. On December 21, 1951, EBR-1, a modest 100-kilowatt plant fueled by uranium 235, became the first reactor to generate electrical power from nuclear fission.
When the US Congress passed the Atomic Energy Commission Act of 1954, allowing private companies the right to build and operate nuclear power plants, Bechtel committed 10 percent of its pretax profits and 10 percent of its management and engineering capability for 10 years to learning the technology of nuclear power.
Bechtel joined with Pacific Gas and Electric and six major eastern and midwestern utility companies in the US to form the Nuclear Power Group (NPG), a trade organization that promoted nuclear power and undertook economic and design studies for the AEC. By 1955, the group had completed a functional design for a nuclear plant.
The NPG would incorporate and commit $15 million to research and development of its first nuclear plant. That same year, the NPG went to the AEC with plans for Dresden-1, a 180-megawatt boiling water reactor in the state of Illinois. It would be the world’s first privately financed, all-nuclear commercial power station. Construction on Dresden began in early 1957 and was completed in 1959.
“Dresden did more to establish commercial nuclear power than any other single project.” -- Steve Bechtel, Sr
Since that time, Bechtel has completed more than 74,000-megawatts of new nuclear generation capacity and has performed engineering and/or construction services on more than 150 nuclear plants worldwide.
In addition, we have more than 2,200 nuclear professionals, including approximately 150 internationally recognized technical specialists who have been widely published.
Creating the Next Generation of Nuclear Workforce
At every project, we work to help build a local workforce to ensure the long-term success of our customer’s project and the vitality of the community.
Watts Bar in Tennessee became the first nuclear power plant in the United States to complete safety upgrades and meet new Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations established after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, including the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
Watts Bar Unit 2 employed nearly 3,200 workers during construction and added about 250 permanent workers for operation of the plant. The project also provides economic benefits to the area through regional purchases of supplies and services.
Experts estimate that Watts Bar Unit 2 is helping the Tennessee Valley Authority avoid coal-fired emissions of approximately six to eight million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4
At Vogtle Units 3 & 4 in Waynesboro, GA, Bechtel leads a construction workforce that will peak at more than 7,000 strong in 2019. Due to the lack of new nuclear construction in the U.S. over the past 20 years, qualified workers can be difficult to find. However, thanks to a strong partnership with national labor unions, Bechtel is recruiting skilled tradesmen and women from across the country, upskilling the workforce already on site, and empowering them with marketable skills they can use to land future work.
Vogtle is the only active construction site of a new nuclear plant in the U.S.
Horizon Nuclear Power
Leading efforts to provide low-carbon electricity in the UK, Bechtel was selected to help deliver a new, two-reactor nuclear plant in Wales for Horizon Nuclear Power. The project, Wylfa Newydd, is located in Anglesey, Wales, United Kingdom, and is adjacent to an existing nuclear plant that is being decommissioned by the UK government.
"The UK still needs reliable nuclear power to help transform our energy mix, and we are gearing up to deliver that. Our first power station will be cheaper than what has gone before and after that, with smart financing, supply chain learnings and no need for first time overheads, future project costs will fall further still." - Horizon CEO Duncan Hawthorne
Construction will create 8,000 to 10,000 jobs at peak periods and the plant will employ around 850 permanent employees on the Isle of Anglesey.
Bechtel is providing management consulting services to EDF Energy/NNB Generating Company as it builds two 1,650-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor units at Hinkley Point in southwest England. Upon completion, the two-unit plant will have the capacity to generate 3,300-megawatts of power.
We remain committed to the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors – working with companies developing simpler and safer reactors that produce even less waste.
How Nuclear Reactors Work
60 years in the UK