McGuire Nuclear Station turns 30
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Despite the negative connotations that nuclear power plants bring to mind, Lake Norman’s McGuire Nuclear Station will turn 30 years old on Dec. 1, celebrating three decades powering the Charlotte area without incident.
Escorted by armed guards, site Vice President Regis Repko led a group of reporters on a tour through the 191-acre plant’s maze of machinery and radiation monitors on Thursday, Nov. 17, to give the public a rare glimpse inside the massive Huntersville plant.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001, few people have been allowed tours within the plant, a move that has decreased the chance of terrorist activity and significantly increased the amount of curiosity surrounding the plant.
Repko said that despite people’s fears about the nuclear plant and radiation, there is nothing to worry about.
“Most people fear what they don’t know. It’s just human nature,” Repko said.
“Radiation is just like any other substance. Like Clorox, it’s wonderful in small doses, but lethal in large doses. It’s the same thing with radiation; in small quantities it’s harmless and wonderful for the medical field,” he said.
The plant is powered by two nuclear reactors each of which can produce a whopping 1,200 megawatts per day, enough to power a city the size of Charlotte for one day, according to Duke Energy.
The nuclear reactors are powered by two massive turbines, which are paired with generators that keep the room that houses the machines at a constant 100 degrees. The room is so loud that all people entering the building must wear ear buds to protect against the high frequency humming of the machines at work.
The tour also led to vital security areas like the spent-fuel room, where a blue pool of water and boron acid rests on top of decaying radioactive rods from the nuclear reactor. The fuel comes in assemblies that are one square foot wide by 13 feet in length, which are placed in the cool depths of the pool for years until they are ready to be removed to giant, steel and concrete casts that stand outside the plant.
In the control room, the nervous system of the plant, whose walls are covered from top to bottom in buttons, levers and monitors, a team of men stands silently in white shirts and ties stare intensely at the screens, monitoring every hiccup the giant reactors might have.
Amid the tour, alarms sounded and red lights flashed around the plant as they tested their alarms system.
“A large amount of maintenance is done on back up systems never used,” Repko said.
There are four classifications of emergency events within the plant,” Repko said. “Luckily, in the 30 years of the plant’s existence, there has never been a problem above a level two.”
The only level two problem occurred in 1989, when a steam generator began leaking. However, the problem was quickly fixed, and the plant has been operating without incident ever since.
Since the horrific meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, caused by the earthquakes and floods that ravaged the country in March, many modifications have been made to emergency protocol, Repko said.
In the case of an earthquake or flood, “operators would shut down the plant immediately, and then walk down and assess any damage done to the structures or system before work began again,” Repko said.
He added that the workforce inside the plant are highly trained and instilled with a safety first mentality. He expects the plant will continue without incident until its license will run out in 2041 – another 30 years.