The Birds. At Duke Energy’s Nuclear Plants


Birds migrate for the winter. But where do they migrate? Would you believe more than 150 species migrate to North and South Carolina? And many of those nest near or on the lakes that Duke Energy’s nuclear plants sit on.

At McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman, the rufus hummingbird, red-necked grebe, western grebe, and black tern have been spotted.


Terns have been spotted near McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman.

At Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie, brown pelicans have been spotted.

“Birds species from bald eagles to ruby-throated hummingbirds nest along the shores of the Catawba River Corridor and surrounding areas,” said Duke Energy Environmental Scientist Mark Auten. “There are a number of birds that frequent the Carolinas during the winter season that are not traditionally found in this area year-round.”

For example, the common loon spends the winter months fishing on many of the Catawba lakes,  as do several species of gulls. And many wading birds such as herons and egrets can be seen in the shallows around all the lakes and nesting on many islands and along the shore lines — often in pine trees.

An osprey cam is being installed at Catawba Nuclear Station for the public to watch the osprey nesting.

An osprey cam is being installed at Catawba Nuclear Station for the public to watch the osprey nesting.

“Duke Energy has an active and comprehensive Avian Protection Plan,” Auten said. “Take the osprey for example. Prior to 1984, no ospreys were known to be nesting on Lake Norman. Now there are 65 active Osprey nests on or surrounding the immediate area of Lake Norman.”

Between 1984 and 1987, in cooperation with the Carolinas Raptor Center, North Carolina State and Federal Agencies, Duke Energy helped relocate 12 young ospreys from Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and raise them on hacking platforms so that these birds would leave an imprint on the area and return after migration.

Osprey at Catawba Nuclear Station.

Osprey at Catawba Nuclear Station.

And at Catawba Nuclear Station, there is an active osprey nest on one of the communication towers on site. Duke Energy is in the process of putting a live-feed camera near the nest so the public can watch the Osprey online.

At Marshall Steam Station, Duke Energy and the local Wildlife Federation groups have put up nesting platforms for the great blue herons.

Not only does Duke Energy have an Avian Protection Plan, the company also has a Migratory Bird Hotline.

“Duke Energy’s Midwest, Carolinas West, Carolinas East and Florida have company hotlines to report all bird incidents that occur in or on the Duke Energy system ,” Auten said. “Duke Energy annually reports all avian incidents and nest removal and relocations to the local state and federal agencies and maintains avian permits for these incidents.”


A cormorant spotted on Lake Wylie near Catawba Nuclear Station.

Teacher Scholars Discuss the Nature of Energy

While teachers enjoy helping students learn about new subjects, teachers also enjoy learning and expanding their knowledge on subjects as well. In partnership with the Charlotte Teacher’s Institute(CTI) speaker series, the EnergyExplorium at McGuire Nuclear Station hosted an event for teachers to share what they learned from research projects related to energy. More than 70 people attended the event which provided an opportunity for  teachers to present their work focused on the theme: Teachers as Scholars: The Nature of Energy. Representing research conducted for elementary, middle, high school and university students, teacher also displayed their work and provided hands-on demonstrations to complement their research.

Discussion Topics and Presenters:

  • The Nature of Energy: How we use and Store it to Power Our Everyday Lives – Susan Trammell, Professor of Physics – UNC Charlotte
  • Energy in Our World – Cindy Woolery, Science Teacher – Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School
  • Crusing Continents and an Awesome Asthenosphere: Fueling Earth’s Ever Changing Surface – Julie Ruziska Tiddy – Science Teacher – Carmel Middle School
  • Mama did not Take the Kodachrome Away But Charge-Coupled Devices Did – Deb Semmler, Physics Teacher – East Mecklenburg High School

“Duke Energy is a strong supporter of CTI and we were honored to host the event at the EnergyExplorium,” says Christine Pulley, a member of the communications team at the EnergyExplorium. “As an energy education center we’re always looking for ways to educate the public on nuclear and other energy-related issues. We believe that when educators have an opportunity to expand their knowledge, it benefits their students and the overall classroom experience.”

The Charlotte Teachers Institute (CTI) is an initiative to strengthen teaching and learning in public schools. Led by classroom teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (Charlotte, N.C.) and professors at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College, CTI is founded on four pillars of strong professional development:  content knowledge, creativity, leadership and collaboration. In addition to hosting seminars for teachers, CTI hosts programs and special events to engage and educate teachers and the community at large.

Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plant Used Fuel Pools

Harris Nuclear Plant used fuel pool

Harris Nuclear Plant used fuel pool

Over the years, the nuclear power industry and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have conducted many studies to evaluate the safety of U.S. used fuel pools. Logically, the concern about the safety of U.S. used fuel pools increased following the 2011 earthquake that affected the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan.

All of the used fuel rods from more than five decades of electricity production at U.S. nuclear energy facilities are stored in used fuel storage pools or above-ground dry storage containers. When fuel is removed from the reactor, it is stored under water in fortified concrete, stainless steel-lined pools. The water helps cool the fuel and shields workers and the environment from radiation. After cooling in the used fuel storage pool, assemblies may be moved into robust steel and concrete dry storage containers also built to withstand extreme conditions such as earthquakes and tornadoes.

Multiple layers of safety systems ensure the cooling water level is maintained even during extreme events such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. Although the pool’s water level at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was sufficient, plant personnel assumed the worst and made many attempts to add water to the pool, including dropping water from helicopters. These actions distracted the site from addressing the main problem of damaged reactors.

Following the incident in Japan, the NRC ordered U.S. nuclear power plants to add instrumentation to their used fuel pools. That way, if an accident occurs plant staff would be able to tell if the pools need attention. The ultimate goal of instrumentation is to keep the public safe by helping plant staff properly prioritize their accident response.

Although U.S. reactors already monitor a small fraction of the water level in the used fuel pool, this system may not work if power is lost, as it was at Fukushima, and can’t provide advance warning of low water levels.

The NRC’s order requires U.S. reactors to be able to tell whether water is at or above certain levels. The highest level means enough water is available for the normal cooling system to work, while the lowest level is still enough to cover the fuel, but warns staff to begin adding more water to the pool. The NRC order also requires plant staff to be able to read these levels from a location away from the pool, such as in the main control room.

U.S. plants must install the new instruments no later than two refueling cycles after submitting plans to the NRC or by the end of 2016, whichever comes first. All U.S. plants, including Duke Energy plants, submitted their instrumentation plans in February 2013. The NRC recently issued interim evaluations so plants can order equipment and move forward with installing the instruments.

Shortly after the incident at Fukushima, the NRC staff also assessed whether a severe earthquake could damage used fuel pools of the same reactor type as Fukushima to the extent of uncovering the fuel and whether this should warrant expediting moving used fuel from wet pools to dry storage.

The study results found that this type of used fuel pool is very likely to withstand severe earthquakes without leaking and that reducing the volume of used fuel in storage pools would be of minimal value. Based on this study and previous studies, the NRC staff concluded that used fuel pools adequately protect public health and safety.