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BYRON – The dosimeters worn by journalists during an exclusive, behind-the scenes look at Exelon’s Byron Nuclear Generating Station remained at zero, recording no traces of radiation.
Although nuclear power plant officials maintained that the visiting group was not at risk, all precautions were taken. Each of the power-generating station’s two units can produce more than 1,000 megawatts, serving more than 2 million customers. The magnitude of the surroundings was not lost.
Background checks were performed at least twice on the visitors, including one the morning of the tour.
During the all-day tour, members of the media were taken to nearly all parts of the generating station – from the turbine room to outside where dry casks of radioactive waste are stored. Earplugs, protective eyewear and hard hats were required. Special security tags were scanned before entering each new room, and a tour guide never left the journalists’ side.
In the hub of the generating station’s operations was the turbine room, where large generators creating the steam power manufactured a loud hum that sounded like a freight train approaching. Make that 10 freight trains.
The next stop was the fuel containment pool, a 24-foot deep pool with used nuclear fuel covered in water and boric acid, which acts as a neutralizer to the radioactive material. A worker outfitted in a containment suit because possible radiation was nearby stood a mere 20 feet from the journalists.
Before entering the area, recording devices and cameras were scrutinized by a special device that screens for radiation. The camera used by Shaw Suburban Media didn’t meet the threshold and wasn’t allowed in.
Before leaving the fuel-containment area, journalists stood with feet firmly placed on yellow shoe print outlines, keeping perfectly still while a machine counted down from 10 and scanned for traces of radiation.
Next on the schedule was the control room, a large space surrounded floor to ceiling with a sea of red and green analog buttons and various switches, dials and gauges. Workers in the control room maintain the plant’s operations. Most of the equipment dated back to the 1960s, the tour guide said.
This is where one would find the Homer Simpson of the nuclear power plant – a reference with which Byron employees were all too familiar.
“Our guys are nothing like Homer Simpson. That show has really done a disservice to our industry,” said Brian Payne, a reactor engineer.
In fact, each is trained, licensed and certified with refresher courses mandated every several years.