By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor
On Wednesday, June 21, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) announced its selection of Gadsden as the location of the company’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) assembly plant.
“This is the first plant of its kind in the country,” Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford said. “And it is coming to Gadsden, Alabama.”
The highly automated facility will manufacture, assemble, test and inspect the non-radiological modules needed to construct USNC’s industry leading Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR). While USNC operates in the nuclear energy sector, the company emphasized that no radioactive material will be used or stored at the Gadsden assembly plant.
At a Thursday morning news conference, David Hooks, executive director for Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority, said getting USNC to Gadsden was a team effort.
“To do any project of this size takes a team effort. When I tell you about all the people involved, you can think about the numbers adding up. There were probably at least 50 people directly involved in the recruitment of this project. The fact that we kept it a secret for eight months is pretty amazing.”
Ford briefly told the story of his first meeting with Hooks about USNC’s plans and how he wanted to offer the company every incentive possible.
“We want this company,” Ford said. “This is something we ran on and this is something that Gadsden stands for.”
As part of the incentives for the new industry partner, the City of Gadsden will contribute to the site development of the future 578,000 square feet facility. The future home of the plant will be located on Steele Station Road near the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport. The site development will include utility work and paving the road into the plant. Ford said there are additional plans for road work on Steele Station Road that will be announced at a later time.
USNC’s decision to locate in Gadsden resulted from an extensive search spanning a total of 16 states and hundreds of potential sites. The deal was formalized through a project agreement executed by Governor Kay Ivey and the company.
“We are attracted to Gadsden by their skilled workforce and the outstanding training programs and support they are bringing to the table,” said Ted Coulter, plant director for the MMR factory at USNC. “In Gadsden, I have confidence we can hire local talent and operate with both safety and efficiency. We are looking forward to becoming a member of the community.”
According to Ford, the company chose Gadsden because the low cost of living for employees, the terrain and the ease of accessibility to different organizations, like IDA, Mayor’s Association, Etowah County Commission and Gadsden City Council.
“Working together with the other governments and county commission was so instrumental in bringing this industry to Gadsden,” Ford said. “This is an effort that we were all able to work together on, and that is what it takes to bring industry to Gadsden and Etowah County. What is good for them is what is good for us, and what’s good for us is good for them. We want to thank them for working with us.”
According to Ford, who did not want to call out the specific cities Gadsden competed against, the City of Gadsden beat out a city in Texas and a city in Tennessee to secure USNC’s future plant.
“Alabama is home to an impressive array of highly innovative companies, so our state is an ideal place for Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s new advanced microreactor assembly plant,” Ivey said. “This unique facility will benefit the Gadsden community through a significant investment and the creation of good jobs while also reinforcing Alabama’s reputation for cutting-edge manufacturing operations.”
News of the agreement came during a keynote address on June 21 by USNC’s Chief Nuclear Officer, Dan Stout, at the 10th Advanced Reactors Summit and Technology Trailblazers Showcase in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ford was on hand in Charlotte for the announcement.
“We appreciate the interest and support for this effort from the City of Gadsden, Etowah County, the Alabama Department of Commerce and so many others up to and including Governor Ivey and her talented team,” said Stout. “We especially appreciate the guidance and efforts of April Gray at the Department of Commerce and David Hooks of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority in making this project a reality.”
The non-nuclear production facility represents a $232 million investment in advanced nuclear infrastructure, benefitting the community, the Southeast region and the nation. When operational, the assembly plant will employ 250 professional and technical workers.
According to Ford, the payroll will be $15 million a year, and jobs will start out paying between $50,000 and $90,000 a year. The annual economic impact for the City of Gadsden by the facility will be $100 million.
Construction is slated to begin in 2024 with the facility operational in 2027.
“I want you to be patient with us,” Ford said. “It is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re going to be there with them.”
The 578,000 square foot factory features state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing processes and equipment and will be capable of producing up to 10 complete MMR nuclear units per year.
The project establishes an advanced nuclear manufacturing hub in Gadsden and the surrounding region. USNC representatives note significant potential for expansion and export as demand for the MMR high-temperature gas reactor gains global interest and traction. There is also potential for USNC suppliers to establish a local presence, thereby creating even more growth and opportunity in and around Gadsden.
“This is a game-changer for Gadsden,” Ford said. “Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s selection of Gadsden proves what I’ve known all my life about the unmatched grit and capability of our workforce. When I took office less than eight months ago, this was one of the first industrial project requests to cross my desk, and working toward today’s announcement has been my top priority since. With this plant being focused on manufacturing and assembly, our workforce is built for exactly this type of industry. We look forward to filling the hundreds of innovative, technology-driven jobs once this new assembly plant becomes operational in 2027. Gadsden and USNC are excited to grow together.”