Nuclear Power

Nuclear Power Plant Cooling TowerI 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.  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.   One was a safety related issue where the head of the reactor chamber was nearly eaten away by fluid flowing through the chamber.  They didn’t catch that until it was nearly too late. The other was when water circulation pumps shut down unexpectedly.  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.  It shut down normally, per design, when power to the site was cut.  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.  I’d go again, given the opportunity.

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Comments

I’ve driven by Davis-Bessie several times when I was a kid. It’s on the way to Cedar Point (which is a must-do, BTW, if you like roller coasters).

They’ve got an unfortunate safety record, as you mention. Back when Chernobyl happened, one of the nuclear safety talking heads on some news show immediately mentioned D-B when asked the inevitable “could it happen here?” question.

Made me proud to be a Toledoan. 😀

I organized the visit of nearly 100 members of the Toledo Homeschoolers group who visited us on Friday – and what an incredible group they were. During the Q&A session, these students and their parents asked more than 30 questions about the plant and its operations. During the discussion, I was joined by two young Davis-Besse engineers (one chemical and the other mechanical – a graduate of the University of Toledo) – among the three of us we answered all their questions fully – and then some!

And by the way, Saluod, you SHOULD be proud to live near such a well run nuclear facility. I was born and raised 20 miles from here and had no idea the caliber of professionals on staff at Davis-Besse – a plant that provides more than 40% of the power required in Northwestern Ohio safely, reliably and efficiently.

The NRC held its annual public meeting at Davis-Besse about a month ago and we received all green lights from them about how the plant operated throughout 2006. It’s unfortunate that – given such an outstanding outcome from the federal agency who allows Davis-Besse and all nuclear facilies in the U.S. to operate – the Blade managed to tuck references to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in the same article.

I’m proud to work for Davis-Besse and FirstEnergy. It gives me and us the opportunity to demonstrate the excellent work executed here 24/7/365.

Chip, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate your taking the time, both to do that and for the tour on Friday. My children both enjoyed the visit. But forget them :-)! I had a great time, too!

I’m an engineer by trade and have been telling everyone at work about the visit all day!

Hi. Thanks to the tourist and the tour-guide for the very interesting read! As a truck driver I’ve driven past this tower several times lately. It’s so big, physically and as a symbol of how far we’ve come since cavemen. The technology that must be involved, I can’t even imagine. It’s cool how you can see it so good from the road, even having to steal glances while driving. Seeing it always sparks a zillion questions in my curious mind, and this article gave me a few more. I wonder if all that water vapor affects the weather? I’m from Detroit so I have a practical interest in that too. =) One last thing, I’m suprised that they require initial power from the outside grid. I would think they’d maybe have a seperate starter plant or whatever, but what if the main grid goes down like that big blackout some years ago? In Detroit we were out of power for 4 days in (steamy) August. Every bit of perishable food within 100 miles was spoiled including all milk. So I would think they’d have a back-up plan for the main grid. Anyway thanks for the great read!

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