Why My First Trip To A Nuclear Plant Was So Memorable

Heading into my first visit to a nuclear power plant, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Here’s what I found.

Written by

David Watson

May 13, 2019

Heading into my first visit to a nuclear power plant, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Since starting at NEI nine months ago, I’ve seen photos of reactors, learned the difference between a boiling water and a pressurized water reactor, and developed a rudimentary grasp of the technology that generates 20 percent of America’s electricity. Yet standing at the center of the plant and seeing it in person was a much different and awe-inspiring experience.

This past Tuesday, I made the trek to Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in York County, Pennsylvania, northeast of Baltimore, to tour the facility and meet some of the more than 750 people who work there.

It’s clear that each person who works at Peach Bottom, no matter what they do or how long they’ve been there, takes great pride in their work and in their community.

The workforce is doing everything from running the control room to planning its refueling outages, keeping its pumps, valves and other components in top shape, managing plant communications, and keeping the plant secure.

While we visited on a pleasant winter day, this plant is set up to cope with any blizzard, flood, hurricane, earthquake, polar vortex or summer heat wave that comes its way.


Kelly in hard hat and with dosimeter in front of the spent fuel pool. After the tour Kelly’s dosimeter read “0 millirem”. Normal US background radiation is about 3 millirem a day (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).

What was most impressive to me was the sheer scale of the plant’s operations. After walking through a series of buildings and security checkpoints, we arrived at the highlight of the tour, the control room and fuel floor. It was incredible to see the inside of this gigantic, powerful facility that generates carbon-free electricity for more than 2.7 million homes.

But what was most memorable were the employees that I met. It’s clear that each person who works at Peach Bottom, no matter what they do or how long they’ve been there, takes great pride in their work and in their community. Their commitment and passion made my first trip to a nuclear plant one I will never forget.

The refueling floor includes the used fuel pool, behind the orange barrier on the left. During operations, the reactor is decked over with concrete blocks to shield people above from its radiation (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).
The two units at Peach Bottom are both boiling water reactors. Combined, they offset more than 19 million tons of carbon dioxide annually (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).
Engineers talking with Patrick Navin, Peach Bottom site vice president, on the refuelling floor inside the plant. The twin reactors, Unit 2 and Unit 3, generate 2,770 megawatts combined. That’s enough to power 2.7 million homes (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).
View into the used fuel pool. The used fuel assemblies sit in vertical pigeon holes, visible here under tens of feet of water. The water shields against radiation (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).
Entering the plant requires PPE — personal protective equipment — including hard hats, goggles and earplugs. The reactors are silent, but the steam they make spins the turbines at 1800 revolutions per minute (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).
Two Peach Bottom technicians stand near the used fuel pool, which is behind the orange barrier (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).
The reactor is under the circle towards the center of the photo. During refueling, the blocks are removed and the area is filled with water, so that the fuel assemblies can be moved between the reactor and the fuel pool (Photo credit: Kelly McPharlin).

This article was originally published on the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) Blog.

About the author

Kelly McPharlin is a Content & Digital Community Specialist at the Nuclear Energy Institute.


WRITTEN BY

David Watson

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