Q. Are nuclear power plants safe?
A. At V. C. Summer Station, safety is our highest priority – every day. Our employees are skilled, highly-trained professionals. During its 20-year operating history, Summer Station has achieved an impressive record of operational excellence.
The plant buildings and equipment are all designed to ensure public safety. The building that houses our reactor is designed to withstand incredible, even highly unlikely, outside forces. It is in a large, steel-reinforced, concrete building designed to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes and even a plane crashing into it. Nuclear plants have automatic backup systems that protect the nuclear reactor and multiple barriers preventing the release of radioactive by-products.
On top of our own commitment to safety, the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is on-site, overseeing our operations. Should they ever have concerns about our operations, they will see that we address them or stop operating.
Q. What about security – how can you protect the plant?
A. V.C. Summer is equipped with intrusion detection systems, vehicle barrier systems and surveillance capabilities. It is guarded by a well-armed, well-trained security force dedicated to protecting the plant. The security programs are tested annually in mock “force-on-force” attacks – a program unique to the nuclear industry. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, nuclear plants are the most secure industrial facilities in the country.
Q. What about nuclear waste – how do you handle that?
A. There are two types of nuclear waste — low-level and high-level waste. Low-level waste from nuclear power plants, along with wastes from hospitals and other industrial sources, is disposed of in specially designed landfills.
High-level waste is used nuclear fuel. The federal government has responsibility for disposing of high-level waste from power plants as well from government facilities. Until our government commits to a disposal facility, the used fuel is stored at our plant. Currently all the fuel Summer Station has used during its operating lifetime is stored in a large pool of water. Beginning in 2018, some of the oldest used fuel will be placed in dry casks. This storage method is being used safely at plants across the U. S.
Q. What is radiation – is it emitted from nuclear power plants?
A. We are all exposed to radiation all around us. Natural radiation exposure comes from the sun, minerals in the earth and radon gas. We are also exposed to manmade radiation sources such as medical and dental X-rays, televisions, and smoke detectors.
Radiation is measured in millirems. The average person receives about 360 millirems or radiation each year mostly from natural sources. Someone living very close to a nuclear plant will receive less than one additional millirem of exposure per year.
Q. What about Lake Monticello – is water from the plant discharged into the lake?
A. Summer Station uses lake water to cool its equipment. That water is not exposed to the nuclear process or to radioactive material. The water is returned to Lake Monticello. We constantly monitor the lake’s water quality and comply with all state and federal regulations.