The Energy and Environmental Center at the Harris Nuclear Plant has undergone many facelifts since the mid-1980s when it first opened. That was a few years before the Harris Plant, located about 20 miles south of downtown Raleigh, came on line in 1987.
Early on, the center focused primarily on acquainting the community with the prospect of having a nuclear plant as a neighbor. Center staff conducted educational programs on site but also spent a lot of time visiting the community while the plant was under construction.
At that time, the area around the plant was sparsely populated farmland, with only about 20,000 people residing within a 10-mile radius. Today, the surrounding population numbers about 103,000, with burgeoning residential neighborhoods in the adjacent towns of Apex, Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina.
In addition to programs at the Energy and Environmental Center, visits often included a driving tour of the plant’s owner-controlled area. That all changed after 9/11. Lisa Tutor, a 27- year company employee who worked at the center in the mid-1990s, remembers the earlier years. “Security was always tight, but we used to give more plant tours pre-9/11 and had more flexibility,” she said, “as long as visitors were over the age of 18.” As a matter of fact, some nuclear plants closed their education centers — either permanently or temporarily — after 9/11 due to new federal requirements for controlling vehicular access.
The center’s latest facelift, completed in 2008, included a complete overhaul of the auditorium, lobby, exhibit area and classroom. One of the first things visitors notice is a waterfall in front of the building that is powered by four 170-watt solar panels. In addition to the basics on energy and electricity, the center’s interactive exhibits focus on emergency preparedness, security, the history of the Harris Plant, transmitting electricity, alternative energy and energy efficiency. A How it Works exhibit even includes a built-to-scale model of the plant’s iconic 523-foot tall cooling tower.
In addition to student and adult programs, the Energy and Environmental Center holds a special open house each year that includes learning stations and tours of the plant’s emergency operations facility and control room simulator, an exact replica of the plant’s control room used for training plant operators. The event drew close to 200 people of all ages in 2012. This year’s Community Day is scheduled for Saturday, September 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information about the Harris Energy and Environmental Center, visit http://www.duke-energy.com/harris or call 919-362-3261. Individual and group visits are arranged by appointment on weekdays.