W. George Hairston III

An Exemplar in the Management of Nuclear Energy Facilities

Inducted in 2001

Since graduating from Auburn University in 1967 with a B.S. degree in industrial engineering, W. George Hairston III has devoted his career to the safety and health of the Southern Company system, the world’s third-largest independent power producer. The company owns or controls some 48,000 MWe worldwide, just over 6,000 MWe of which is nuclear capacity from three stations in Alabama and Georgia. These plants and 3,000 nuclear professionals are Mr. Hairston’s special responsibility. His title of president and chief operating officer of Southern Nuclear Operating Company scarcely begins to convey the respect he commands industry wide.

In 1972, after serving as an engineer with Alabama Power Company, Birmingham native Mr. Hairston was promoted to operations supervisor at the Joseph Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan, Alabama. He had prepared for this by earning a M.S. degree in nuclear engineering in 1971. In 1978, Mr. Hairston was named Farley plant manager. In the mid 1980s, he returned to Alabama Power’s corporate headquarters, and in 1987 became vice president of nuclear generation. In 1988, when plans to form Southern Nuclear Operating Company were announced, Mr. Hairston was elected senior vice president of nuclear operations for both Alabama Power and Georgia Power. After incorporation of Southern Nuclear in 1990, he was named its executive vice president, and in 1993 was promoted to president and CEO.

Under Mr. Hairston’s leadership, Southern Nuclear’s plants are models of safety and efficiency. By every indicator, they rank in the top 10 percent nationally and all three repeatedly break their own records for productivity. In 1997, Plant Vogtle’s (Georgia) Unit 2 was the top-performing U.S. nuclear plant, while Plant Farley’s Unit 2 ranked third. In 1998, Plant Hatch (Georgia) ranked 14th of the nation’s 118 plants. 1999 was truly a banner year for Mr. Hairston. Plant Vogtle was ranked number four overall, and number three for low production costs. Plants Farley, Hatch, and Vogtle received conservation awards; all three are certified wildlife habitats. Annually, the operation of the three nuclear plants avoid emissions totaling more than 39 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants. Plant Farley continues to supply 20 percent of Alabama Power’s electricity.

As one of the country’s premier nuclear engineers, Mr. Hairston influences energy policy at the highest levels. He has chaired six committees for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a think tank for peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and is on its board of directors. He serves on the boards of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the World Association of Nuclear Operators. With strong leadership skills and a no-nonsense approach to safety, Hairston has contributed to a time of unprecedented performance by nuclear plants. He recently introduced a revolutionary concept in regulating nuclear plants, and the NRC this year began its implementation industry-wide.

Mr. Hairston works tirelessly for the next generation of engineers. He is a former chairman of the National Academy of Nuclear Training, a program dedicated to better training of nuclear professionals. In Alabama, Mr. Hairston has demonstrated a sustained concern for engineering opportunities for minority students. As chairman of INROADS, a program pairing students with companies seeking diversity, he is additionally a generous patron and promoter of minority programs at Auburn and The University of Alabama. Mr. Hairston was also responsible for helping The University of Alabama significantly increase the funding for its Minority Engineering Program.

Mr. Hairston serves on the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council and is a director of Junior Achievement of Greater Birmingham. A veteran of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he served state-side and in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970. He completed in 1991 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Senior Executive Program. Hairston and his wife, Paula, have three sons. The two oldest are, like their father, graduates of the Auburn University engineering program. The third is in high school.

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