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WJZ Investigates The Safety Of Nearby Nuclear Power Plants

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Recent power failures at nuclear plants in Tuscaloosa, Ala.— where the backup system worked— and Fukushima, Japan— where it didn’t— make you wonder what would happen here. Thousands of Marylanders live in the shadow of nearby nuclear power plants.

Denise Koch gives us a rare look behind the high-security gates of Peach Bottom nuclear power plant.

1979. Three Mile Island, Pa. 1986. Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. Now in Japan, radiation spews from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. The outcome: unknown.

It may be difficult to relate to catastrophes far away in Japan or the Soviet Union until you remember there are several nuclear plants about an hour from Baltimore.

Three Mile Island, Calvert Cliffs and Peach Bottom all are active nuclear plants. That leads WJZ to ask if the operators can ensure our safety.

WJZ was recently granted a rare opportunity to go behind the high-security fences at Peach Bottom— just 45 minutes from Baltimore. The plant operators agreed to show us what they do to prevent an accident. Peach Bottom Vice President Tom Dougherty gave WJZ a behind-the-scenes tour.

“We have a tremendous amount of backup equipment that is only here to combat a problem if one should occur,” Dougherty said.

The emergency cooling tower is one of those. Dougherty says as far as he knows, they don’t have those in Fukushima.

In Japan, the earthquake and tsunami sparked a power outage, allowing the problem to spiral out of control. Without electricity, any nuclear plant is at risk of a meltdown.

At Peach Bottom, they take extra steps to ensure the power supply.

“Our fuel oil storage tanks are buried,” Dougherty said. “They’re also at an elevation.”

Dougherty showed WJZ a building he says “is designed for tornadoes, floods and fires, so it’s very robust.”

That’s important because if the plant lost power, it would need to use diesel fuel to keep those generators going, to keep electricity, to keep cooling those rods so that there is no meltdown.

Dougherty says that’s why it’s so well protected.

He showed a simulation of what would happen in a control room if the nuclear power plant lost power.

“There’s testing, there’s training, there’s casualty scenarios that we run through to prepare the operators,” Dougherty said.

Still, not everyone is buying that America’s nuclear plants can prevent accidents similar to Japan’s.

“It doesn’t need to be a tsunami or an earthquake to initiate a reactor failure,” said Paul Gunter, of Beyond Nuclear, an anti-nuclear advocacy group. “Because of the inherent danger, any number of events could be the match that ignites the next nuclear fire.”

But Peach Bottom is adamant its plant is different, with a greater focus on safety.

“What we do best is learn from these events. We learned from Three Mile Island, we learned from Chernobyl, we learned from 9/11, and in each case we got better,” Dougherty said.

Peach Bottom tells WJZ that every two years experts take apart the twin reactors, inspect them, test them and put them back together.  The plant is currently in the middle of a multi-year $1.3 billion project to upgrade a host of critical safety systems.

More from Denise Koch
Comments

One Comment

  1. Greg Primrose says:

    One interesting thing about nuclear power is that it obeys the laws of physics. Nuclear plant safety can be built using the laws of physics. New nuclear plants are being designed to use passive cooling, a technology that can cool a reactor for several days by using gravity and physics.

    The greatest danger is cost cutting, Fukushima tried to save money by skimping on safety.

    I believe, based on the evidence, nuclear power is safe. Nothing is every going to be 100% safe, that is the reality of the world, but I see no reason to abandon it.

  2. frank coffee says:

    I have worked on the building of the Peach Bottom plants,and worked many of the re-fuel outages. The back up systems are tested randomly,the security is next to none,the workers are the best I’ve seen anywhere,management and labor actually work together to ensure things are right. Excelon is always willing to invest in safety.

    1. Paul Springer says:

      I think you meant to say that Security is second to none, not next to none, right Frank? Exelon is spelled Exelon (engineers…)

  3. PAUL E. MICELLI says:

    MORE BULL S@IT TO GET EVERYBODY’S ATTENTION. WHERE ARE OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS WHEN DECISIONS ARE MADE ABOUT THESE MATTERS? WHY ARE WE ALWAYS GOING BACK TO FIX SOMETHING THAT WAS ALREADY SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN THOUGHT OF BEFORE IT WAS APPROVED. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH OUR NUCLEAR PROGRAM, STOP TRYING TO COMPARE US TO THE JAPANESE DISASTER. THE JAPANESE MADE THEIR OWN DECISION NOT TO HAVE THE BACK-UP COOLING TOWERS, THEY PAID THAT PRICE. WHEN YOU TRY TO SAVE MONEY, MAKE THE NUCLEAR PLANT LOOK NICE INSTEAD OF HAVING A GIANT EMERGENCY COOLING TOWER RUINING TH VIEW, DIASTER IS THE RESULT.

  4. Doug says:

    Yes,WJZ, Boo!
    Give us your best scare tactic.

  5. notconcerned says:

    It’s not a scare tactic, Doug. Get a life.

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