GAFFNEY, S.C. — Memories of catastrophes at nuclear plants in decades past seem to be fading, and U.S. energy companies are finding that local governments and residents eager for jobs and tax revenues are embracing the prospect of new power plants.

With utilities at the early edge of what promises to be the first large-scale wave of nuclear plant construction since the 1980s, many small, struggling towns in the Southeast, where most of the plants are planned, are accepting new nuclear plants to help replace vanished industries.

"I can't remember hearing a single negative comment from any local resident," Cody Sossamon, publisher of The Gaffney Ledger, said as he sat in his office near the interstate.

Driven partly by federal Department of Energy projections that demand for electrical power will increase 50 percent by 2025, and by recent federal legislation offering a more streamlined application process and financial incentives for new nuclear facilities, many utilities are eager to expand nuclear power.

"We initially were looking at 14 communities in the Southeast, and then we narrowed that down to four," said Henry B. Barron Jr., chief nuclear officer for Duke Power, which announced last month that it would apply to build its first new nuclear plant in three decades just outside Gaffney. "I found no single individual who had any concerns about the plant. The few who did have concerns were worried about increased traffic on the roads during construction."

Nine utilities have said they will apply to build as many as 19 new nuclear units.

The list of locations includes every state south of Maryland that touches either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, except Texas, and one facility is being considered in central Illinois. The sites tend to be in rural counties whose hard-pressed small towns — like Gaffney, population 13,000 — clutch at the chance for fresh jobs and taxes.

Wanting the plant was a no-brainer for Gaffney, said James P. Inman, executive director of the Cherokee County Development Board.

Some 1,500 new jobs are expected in the construction phase of the $4 billion to $6 billion facility, and then running the plant will take 1,000 employees. In addition, the plant is to pay $8.5 million in annual taxes, to be split between the county and the state.

"You add to that the new home construction and the new businesses and it looks to be a really good thing for this community and this county," Sossamon said.

To attract Duke, county officials agreed to a package of financial incentives. But Gaffney also promised to establish new science, math and engineering courses in local schools to make sure Duke finds people to hire if the plant opens.

"We're looking at the kids who are in fifth grade," Inman said. "Those are the ones who need to start getting ready now for the jobs that are coming. That way they won't have to move away to find work if they don't want to."