Plant Vogtle expansion draws industry veteran

Mark Verbeck is training workers on the new digital operating systems for two reactors being installed at Plant Vogtle.

For Mark Verbeck, the nation’s commercial nuclear revival represented a promise too formidable for it to go on without him.

Verbeck, a 30-year veteran of the nuclear industry, was accustomed to nuclear power plants, but new designs and technology used for the expansion of Plant Vogtle represented a new frontier. He had to be there for the first two new reactors built in the U.S. in 30 years, which are about 30 miles south of Augusta in Burke County.

Verbeck moved to Augusta in 2010 to play a central role in the development of Vogtle’s new units, forecast to come online in 2017 and 2018. As a nuclear operations training manager for Georgia Power, he’s helping train workers for new digital operating systems for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

At existing nuclear reactors, about nine new operators are trained a year, Verbeck said. Vogtle is on a much faster trajectory.

“We are going to license a lot of operators in a hurry,” he said. “By 2018, we have to license 75 new operators.”

Originally from southern California, Verbeck grew up 20 miles from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, where it was announced last summer that utility company Edison International would permanently shut down the two reactors, a stark contrast from his work with Vogtle’s expansion project.

Still, Verbeck has an unwavering confidence in the nuclear industry.

As one of four faces for a Nuclear Energy Institute national campaign, Verbeck hopes more people will start paying attention to energy policy and the nation’s need for a diverse energy infrastructure that includes nuclear power.

“Generation three nuclear power plants are very safe, reliable nuclear power plants,” he said.

Verbeck’s role as a spokesman for the NEI’s Future of Energy campaign has brought him to media panels in Washington, D.C., and to social media platforms where he touts nuclear power as a job creator and economic booster.

Like many in the Augusta area, Verbeck lost power for days during February’s ice storm. He was reminded not only of the importance
of his job at Vogtle but also the nation’s reliance on power.

“We always expect power to be there. The only time we think about it is when it’s not there,” he said.

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