I escorted my two older children yesterday on a field trip to visit the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station near where we live. I’d never been to a commercial nuclear power plant before. Back in the day – way, way back in the day – I visited the U.S. Navy nuclear power training facility in Middle of Nowhere, Idaho for a job interview, but I don’t recall much about that.
Because of heightened security concerns that were implemented after the 9/11 attacks six years ago, we could only go into the Visitor’s Center on the facility, but what we saw was still interesting.
There are apparently more than 800 people who work on the site. They (obviously) get to into the secured areas of the plan, but have to go through an extreme security check to do so. I didn’t ask, but wonder how you could manage to employ 800 people there. I suppose it is because you need not only perhaps four or five crews to operate 24/7, but you need a lot more than just the control room folks on-hand to do so safely. I imagine there must be a first-responder emergency team on call on site all the time. And there are security folks a-plenty there, too.
The most recognizable feature of the plant is the big cooling tower, like what is shown here from another power plant. The tower at Davis-Besse is about 490 feet high. One of the things I learned was that the water vapor that you see coming out of the top of the tower is from 10,000 gallons of water that the tower evaporates per hour when the plant is operating at its rated load. That’s a lot of water.
The uranium the plant uses is loaded into long, skinny fuel rods, which I knew. What I didn’t know was that the actual uranium fuel is configured as pellets about the size of the tip of your little finger. Each one of those pellets contains about 3% pure uranium (not much) and has the equivalent energy of one ton of coal (a lot).
This plant has been using uranium mined from Canada and Africa and reclaimed from nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union.Â Good effort at recycling!
This didn’t come up in the questions the communications director answered from the children and parents, but I found out after coming home from the visit that there have been two very close calls there. Â One was a safety related issue where the head of the reactor chamber was nearly eaten away by fluid flowing through the chamber.Â They didn’t catch that until it was nearly too late. The other was when water circulation pumps shut down unexpectedly.Â The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the site’s operators for both incidents.
The site was also hit directly by a tornado a couple years ago.Â It shut down normally, per design, when power to the site was cut.Â The power station generates something like 900 megawatts of power, but gets its internal power from the outside power grid.
We were there about two hours and it was an interesting visit.Â I’d go again, given the opportunity.