SURGOINSVILLE — At its peak, there were 3,000 people working on the Phipps Bend Nuclear Plant construction project, which made for a lot of disappointment when it was announced in August of 1981 that the $2.95 billion plant had been canceled.
Among the disappointed were civil engineer Larry Maney, who was actually the first Tennessee Valley Authority employee on site when construction began in October of 1977.
Maney had intended on completing his TVA career at Phipps Bend and retiring locally.
He was half right.
Maney, who is a native of Cherokee, N.C., met his wife here while working on the job. After Phipps Bend was shut down, she followed him to various other TVA jobs at places like Columbia Dam and Land Between the Lakes.
When he retired in 1994, he decided that since his wife had followed him throughout his career, when he retired they would settle near her homeplace, and they now live in Fall Branch.
“I know the Phipps Bend cancellation was hard on a lot of families who had sold their homes elsewhere and moved to this area, only to get their jobs pulled out from under them and have to go on the road again,” Maney told the Times-News Monday. “Everybody had kind of a feeling like, ‘Where do we go from here?’ At the time it was kind of devastating. My situation was different. A lot of the others didn’t have another job to go to. For me, the shutdown wasn’t a totally bad experience. I had a new wife, and I still had a TVA job.”
In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Phipps Bend Nuclear Plant construction getting underway, Maney has organized a reunion for anyone who worked on the project and for their family.
The reunion is scheduled for June 10 from 4-9 p.m. at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium.
Aside from meeting old friends and colleagues, the event will give Maney an opportunity to put his vast collection of Phipps Bend maps, photos, drawings and other memorabilia on display. He’s hoping other people will bring their old Phipps Bend construction photos and memorabilia as well.
“In 1977, people with any kind of experience were 40 years old then,” Maney said. “So a lot of them are kind of like me. They’re getting up in years and a lot of them were older than me. I don’t expect a lot of the older generation to be there, but hopefully some of the younger ones will be.”
Maney was the first person assigned to the field at Phipps Bend, and initially he was responsible for doing all the layout for the buildings, roads, and general excavation.
He had been employed at TVA since 1966, and he had worked in the maps and surveys department for several years.
When he transferred over to construction at Phipps Bend, his previous experience helped him tremendously because he had become familiar with different types of surveys.
“It was pretty much just farm country,” Maney said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of timber. It was mostly active farm land and pastures. There was one church down there, and when I went down there and started working, that was my office. One of the first things we did was clear the whole site. Anything we couldn’t use was torn down and removed from the site. There were houses and barns. It wasn’t heavily populated, but it was being used for farmland.
“Initially, we were mainly concerned with getting the administrative buildings set up. There were about 15 trailers set up near where Aladdin Plastics (now Homeland Vinyl) was later built until administration buildings were set up.”
Within three years, TVA had invested as much as $1.5 billion in the project. Construction was about 40 percent complete, and one of the two planned reactors had already been placed in the reactor building.
Then in August of 1981 the announcement was made that the project had been canceled, mainly because authorities had overestimated the demand for electricity.
“They said they had some power needs forecast that had changed after the initial decision to do the construction,” Maney said. “They had canceled 10 nuclear units right around the same time. Two at Phipps Bend, four at Hartsville (Tenn.), two at Yellow Creek in Mississippi, and two at Bellefonte in Hollywood, Alabama. They had one reactor in place when they pulled the plug on the project. I got to go inside the reactor one time, and we had to suit up in the solid white suits and boots. When you got inside there, it was like a mirror. It was polished that highly.
“When they announced the cancellation of the project, they played ‘On the Road Again’ on the outside speakers and they removed the reactor.”
Worker layoffs began the following year, and TVA eventually turned the property over to Hawkins County for creation of an industrial park.
When the construction began, housing prices escalated.
And then when the project shut down, the housing market went into reverse.
“We all paid a lot extra for a house to start with and then lost a lot selling out when it was over,” Maney said. “We had some really good people working on that project. I’m sure we’re going to hear some interesting stories about life after Phipps Bend during the reunion.”
Today Phipps Bend Industrial Park is is home to 11 plants employing approximately 1,200 people.
The old reactor building and cooling tower frame still exist, and although they are off-limits to the public, they can be viewed from a distance.
Maney asks anyone who plans on attending to reunion or has any questions to contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please leave a name, phone number and the number of guests coming so he can estimate attendance. Light refreshments will be served.