Engineering, nuclear science, environmental science, chemistry.
No, they’re not just subjects some of our nuclear teammates majored in as college students, but in fact, represent just a few of the Boy Scout merit badges taught at McGuire, Catawba and Oconee Nuclear Stations.
Year after year, Duke Energy invites nearly 800 Boy Scouts to earn merit badges at their local nuclear power plant. At McGuire and Catawba Nuclear Stations, in addition to earning merit badges, Boy Scouts participate in a multi-day event and have the chance to pitch a tent and camp out under the stars on the grounds of the power plant or at a nearby campsite. At Oconee Nuclear Station, scouts participate in a Merit Badge College where they can earn up to four merit badges in one day. Aside from the countless number of science and energy-related merit badges, scouts can also earn leatherwork, geocaching, railroading, communications, crime prevention and emergency preparedness badges as well as many more.
The Duke Energy merit badge program had its start more than 25 years ago, and all it took was the vision of three Duke Energy (then Duke Power) teammates at McGuire Nuclear Station who wanted to find ways the science and engineering expertise of the company’s employees could be mobilized as a scientific education tool in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America.
What was once a vision quickly became a reality in 1987 as the first merit badge encampment was held at McGuire Nuclear Station. At the time, only three merit badges were offered and about 90 boys participated in the program. Today, the Boy Scout Encampment at McGuire offers nearly 25 merit badges to nearly 500 boys. Since opening its doors to the Boy Scout community more than 10 years ago, young men have had several opportunities, including taking tours of the control room simulator at Oconee Nuclear Station or conducting experiments at Catawba Nuclear Station’s chemistry lab. Undoubtedly, a big part of the success of the program can also be attributed to the 150 Duke Energy teammates who have volunteered as instructors, including scientists, engineers, plant operators and trainers over the past several years.
What was once a vision has now become an annual tradition at McGuire, Catawba and Oconee Nuclear Stations. To date, more than 9,000 members of the Boy Scout community have participated in the merit badge program. For some, the program allows scouts to simply earn merit badges, others might pick up a lifelong passion and for a few, it could open the door to college and a career.
Each year, Duke Energy and the Boy Scouts continue to work together to find fun and innovative ways to enhance science education for young boys. While scouts leave full of knowledge, events like the merit badge program are another way we share the benefits of nuclear power as a safe and reliable energy source.
All nuclear workers carry a special responsibility. They must fully comply with station procedures and federal regulations to ensure the health and safety of the public, their co-workers and families are protected. Their dedication and success attest to the outstanding safety record the nuclear industry has achieved over the years.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the nation’s nuclear plants and other industries that manage nuclear materials. The chief inspection tool used to measure a wide range of performance indicators at a nuclear plant is the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process (ROP).
Each nuclear site has at least two permanently assigned NRC inspectors who monitor and evaluate plant performance on an ongoing basis. NRC officials also perform an annual assessment of a plant’s performance in the areas of reactor safety, radiation safety and nuclear safeguards.
Any findings from the NRC’s inspection program and performance indicators reported by the plant’s licensee (owner/operator) go into a detailed analysis that assesses a nuclear plant’s safety level. The NRC issues assessment letters typically on a semi-annual basis, which are publicly available on its website. In conjunction with the assessment letters, the NRC will schedule an “open house” or meeting to communicate the assessment results and respond to questions from the public.
The Action Matrix is the primary tool used by the NRC to communicate performance under the ROP. Currently, all Duke Energy nuclear sites are in the license response column of the Action Matrix, which corresponds to the lowest level of oversight referred to as the “baseline inspection program.” The level of oversight increases as plant performance declines.
The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) is an industry funded oversight organization that assesses plant performance, promotes the sharing of operating experience, and evaluates the effectiveness of operator training. The oversight provided by the NRC and INPO play an important role in promoting a shared focus on nuclear safety throughout the industry. This shared focus on safety allows nuclear energy to continue to play an important role in meeting our nation’s energy needs safely, reliably and carbon-free.
It is a place where orchids bloom, art is displayed and local history is remembered. It is also a venue where professionals meet, children learn and retirees explore new interests. The World of Energy, located adjacent to Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca S.C., overlooks a butterfly garden and the pristine waters of Lake Keowee. And, just beyond the facility’s floor-to-ceiling windows, visitors have clear views of three, 19-story nuclear reactors.
At first glance, Oconee Nuclear Station may seem like an unusual place for social, cultural and educational activity. Yet the site’s World of Energy education center is designed for just such endeavors. Each year, approximately 30,000 visitors from throughout the United States and as far away as Europe come to the World of Energy to participate in events, tour the facility’s interactive Story of Energy exhibit and see displays that range from native habitat restoration to fine art.
Built in 1969 before construction began on Oconee’s nuclear reactors, World of Energy originally served as a vantage point from which citizens could view the progress of one of the U.S.’s first nuclear power plants. Since then, the facility has grown to include a comfortable auditorium, spacious lobby and meeting rooms, as well as its star attraction: the Story of Energy exhibit. Since its opening, more than three million visitors have walked through World of Energy’s doors.
“Thousands of people seek us out each year after hearing about our programs and learning about all that World of Energy has to offer,” said B.J. Gatten, communications manager for Duke Energy. “Having an educational center right next to a nuclear plant provides an excellent opportunity for us to de-mystify nuclear power and show people how safe and environmentally-friendly it truly is.”
Whether they are interested in learning about nuclear energy or drawn by one of its attractions, people of all ages find something to do at World of Energy. For the business set, the facility’s staff hosts programs like an “After Hours” event where professionals from a multi-county Chamber of Commerce coalition get to mix and mingle. For retirees, the staff holds a Super Tuesday program every other month, which features discussions on such topics as how to select native plants for gardening and tracing family roots through genealogy.
World of Energy staff members also provide presentations about how electricity is made to students from elementary, middle and high schools. The presentations are tailored for each grade level. Fourth graders are invited onstage to play the roles of atoms to demonstrate how magnetic charge is used to create the movement of electrons along conductors; high school students learn about nuclear fission. A hair-raising Vandergraph experience always makes a memorable grand finale.
Outside of the World of Energy building, shaded, open lawns are used for a myriad of community and group events like an annual movie night or Boy Scout merit badge trips. “World of Energy helps Duke Energy to be a good neighbor and allows us to give back to the community,” said Gatten. “It is always fun to meet people who visited World of Energy as children and are back visiting with their children and grand-children.”
For more information, visit the World of Energy website at www.duke-energy.com/worldofenergy.
Harris Nuclear Plant can produce enough electricity to power more than a half million homes, has a 523-foot cooling tower and is made with enough concrete to pave 75 miles of four-lane highway. The plant also has 24 million pounds of reinforced steel and enough power cables to run between the east and west coasts 1 1/2 times.
The single-unit, pressurized water reactor located near New Hill, N.C., about 22 miles southwest of Raleigh, is jointly owned by the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy. It was named after Shearon Harris, a former president of Carolina Power & Light, a predecessor company.
Permit requests for the plant were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1971 and groundbreaking took place in 1978. During the span of 16 years, more than 2,000 workers—ranging from engineers to construction workers, reactor operators and administrative professionals—worked to prepare the plant for commercial operation. The site was originally designed for four reactors but due to changing economic conditions, the plant was scaled back to one unit.
Harris Nuclear Plant began generating power on May 2, 1987, making it the newest nuclear unit in the Carolinas.
Safety is the cornerstone of all operations at the plant. Multiple layers of safety systems and structures protect the plant and surrounding community. The reactor and steam generators are housed inside a containment structure designed to withstand the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and airborne objects. Its walls are 4 1/2 feet thick and made up of nine layers of steel-reinforced concrete. In addition to multiple safety and plant shutdown systems, in-depth defense and emergency response plans are coordinated and practiced regularly with local, state and federal officials.
Harris Nuclear plant is a safe, reliable and environmentally friendly generator of electricity. Nuclear plants have one of the smallest environmental footprints of any generating source. Harris alone prevents more than 4 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.
Harris Lake was built on 4,100 acres of land to provide water that is pumped into the plant for cooling and produces a visible plume of clean water vapor that rises from the cooling tower. The plant’s property, including Harris Lake, is an important community resource, providing outdoor recreation areas for the public and wildlife habitats.
The lake is regularly used for boating, swimming and fishing. Almost 700 acres of land around the plant are leased to Harris Lake County Park, 500 acres are designated as a forestry research tract and more than 14,000 acres are part of the North Carolina Wildlife Commission Game Lands Program.
Harris Nuclear Plant has operated safely for more than 20 years and is committed to being a safe, reliable source of electricity and a good neighbor in the local community.
To learn more about the plant, visit the Harris Energy and Environmental Center, featuring exhibits on electricity generation and transmission, alternative energy, energy efficiency and the benefits of nuclear power.
Watch a video about Harris Nuclear Plant.
The assault team is settled on the wood line on a night with no moon. They are fine tuning their approach route, waiting for the right opportunity. In a few short seconds, they are identified, assessed and engaged by the highly trained security force at the Catawba Nuclear Station in South Carolina. A hail of gunfire from multiple locations reins on the terrorist cell, neutralizing the entire team before they can get to their feet.
Sound like science fiction? This is a typical training scenario for the nuclear security professionals across Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet. At Duke-operated nuclear stations, security is continuously evaluated through the critical review of the site’s ability to respond to a mock attack by adversaries and physically protect the site and its employees and equipment. This is a typical scenario of what is called a ‘force-on-force’ (FOF) security exercise. These exercises include a team of very fit, well-trained and well-armed mock adversaries.
Since 1991, these FOF exercises have been regularly carried out as part of the nuclear industry’s comprehensive security program to ensure the ability to protect the health and safety of the public. Every three years, each site is also evaluated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which brings in a special team of adversaries referred to as the “National Team.” This inspection evaluates multiple aspects of plant security and includes three nights of full-scale mock attacks. This National Team includes active duty military members from the U.S. Special Operations Command.
The NRC evaluates the ability to respond to these attacks – not just the security response, but all aspects of the site including a special focus on operations, and emergency preparedness.
Catawba Nuclear Station personnel recently successfully completed their NRC FOF evaluated exercise and the McGuire Nuclear Station near Charlotte, N.C. will be evaluated later this year. These represent two of the six Duke-operated sites in the Carolinas. Ed O’Neil, director, Nuclear Protective Services, describes the secret to Duke’s top-notch nuclear security program. “Duke Energy has a well-trained and highly skilled security force. Our officers are very professional and take great pride in what they do – our mission is to be the best in the industry and we are on track to achieve this mission.”
O’Neil added, “The combination of a team who genuinely cares about what they do, a world-class training and qualification program and a well designed and comprehensive security strategy, you ensure nuclear power plants are among the most well protected facilities in the nation.”
Want to learn about major security enhancements at U.S. nuclear energy facilities since 9/11? Click on the icon below to learn more.
Extensive monitoring programs are in place to protect the air, soil and water around nuclear sites, as well as ensure adherence to state and federal regulations and internal policies. The nuclear industry’s unique fuel source and related operations makes monitoring radiation levels a central focus. While the nuclear industry itself is responsible for many of the radiation monitoring systems, ensuring the public’s health and safety is a collective effort among the industry and agencies. In addition to establishing guidelines, state and federal regulators have programs that support environmental monitoring. One example is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RadNet system.
The nationwide RadNet system monitors the air, precipitation, drinking water and pasteurized milk to track radiation in the environment. Over time, RadNet sample testing and monitoring results show the normal background levels of environmental radiation. The system will also detect higher than normal radiation levels during a radiological incident. The RadNet system has been used to detect and track radioactive material associated with foreign atmospheric nuclear incidents such as the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.
RadNet has more than 100 stationary radiation air monitors in 48 states. Monitors are distributed across the U.S. according to population and geography. Another 40 portable monitors can be deployed to any location in the U.S. RadNet runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and sends near-real-time measurements of beta and gamma radiation to EPA’s National Air and Radiation Laboratory (NAREL). If there is a meaningful increase in radiation levels, laboratory staff investigate immediately.
By looking at this data over time, scientists recognize what is “normal” or “background” radiation in that location. Any reading above normal will trigger an alert to scientists to review the data. In the event of a radiological incident, RadNet data can be used to confirm that no excess radiation is present in an area or to help decision-makers decide whether appropriate actions need to be taken to protect the public.
RadNet and its forerunners have been collecting environmental radiation data for more than 50 years. The first samplings took place in the late 1940s when above ground nuclear blasts occurred in the U.S., Russia and Great Britain. Nuclear reactor incidents in Europe in the 1950s increased concerns about radiation releases and lead to the establishment of additional monitoring programs. The Tritium Surveillance System (TSS) was set up in 1964 to monitor concentrations in major river systems downstream of nuclear facilities and later expanded to drinking water. By 1973, the data collected was being reported in quarterly Environmental Radiation Data (ERD) reports. Programs and data evolved in conjunction with state and industry efforts. By 2002, RadNet data became available on the EPA website.
The health and safety of the environment and communities is a top priority for the nuclear industry. Resources such as RadNet supplement and enhance the industry’s efforts to ensure safe levels of radiation and the ability to manage any radiological events. To learn more about RadNet, click here to visit the website.
RadNet in Action
RadNet has been an important part of monitoring global nuclear incidents. Following the 1986 Chernobyl incident in Russia, there was almost no data available on the extent of radioactive fallout, so the U.S. monitored radioactivity levels to provide information and ensure the food supply was safe. The EPA also monitored the plume from Chernobyl using data from the Environmental Radiation Ambient Monitoring System, a forerunner of RadNet. The system first detected radiation from the accident at ground level on the West Coast one week after the accident. Radioactivity levels were somewhat higher than usual. However, they were well below levels that would have required any action to protect public health.
In 2011 following the Fukushima incident in Japan, RadNet deployed portable monitors in Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Territories. RadNet detected miniscule quantities of radionuclides associated with the Fukushima incident. A review of the data showed the levels were thousands of times below any level of public health concern and continuing to decline, so RadNet resumed its routine sampling schedule. To keep the public informed about Japan, a website was launched which displayed near real-time radiation monitoring results.
Access RadNet Data:
Envirofacts’ RadNet Database – Laboratory analysis results from air monitor filters and samples of precipitation, drinking water, and milk. Includes both current and historical data needed to estimate long-term trends.
The RadNet Database in EPA’s Central Data Exchange – Near real-time environmental radiation data from fixed and deployable monitors.
Environmental Radiation Data (ERD) – Electronic and print journal of EPA’s National Analytical Radiation Environmental Laboratory (NAREL).
Click here for the Nuclear Energy Institute’s website and the industry’s perspective on the environment.
Click here for an NRC fact sheet on environmental monitoring.
Click here for a previous NIC article on groundwater monitoring programs.
This week marks the fourth annual Robotics Week in America; a week dedicated to inspiring, celebrating and increasing awareness in robotics technology while educating the public about the impacts of the field on society. At Duke Energy, robots are critical components of our plant operations.
There is a long history of robot use in nuclear plants, dating back several decades. More recently, plants are utilizing a type of robot known as unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). These robots give technicians the ability to access areas of the plants to ensure workers’ exposure to radiation remains low. “Using robots makes getting into tight spaces easier and helps to cut down on radiation exposure for workers,” said Floyd Harris, a radiation protection technician at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant. Currently, this plant is using the iRobot 510 PackBot to monitor possible hazards, complete mainteance in tight spots and replace pipe insulation.
Advances in robotics technology have helped enhance plant performance by improving safety and efficiency. “Jobs that once took hours, or even days, of planning because of difficult locations and potential for worker radiation exposure can now be taken care of with the robots,” said Harris. In 2012, Oconee Nuclear Station, in conjunction with AREVA Inc., received recognition from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) for use of robot-acquired data after implementing a fully automated process for inspecting steam generator tubes. The process eliminated the need for two teams of workers to inspect and re-inspect the steam generator tubes. With the help of robots, the once arduous process now takes a fraction of the time and has increased plant safety and efficiency.
Duke Energy’s commitment to advancing robotic technology extends past plant operations and into the community. Teams of workers from various sites coach and sponsor teams of high school students participating in FIRST Robotics competitions each spring. FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” provides challenges for high school students to build and program robots to perform tasks against competitors. With this program, students can learn from engineers, use sophisticated computer software/hardware and qualify for college scholarships. It also gives the engineers a chance to “share information on the growing need for engineers and technical personnel throughout the energy sector,” said Dan McRainey, vice president of Duke Energy Nuclear Major Projects.
For more information about National Robotics Week, click here.