Why nuclear plants are great places for wildlife

There’s something unique about driving onto a Duke Energy nuclear site. It can be a pretty awe-inspiring experience: you’re entering one of the most secure and heavily-protected facilities in the world, a place that most people will not have the opportunity to visit. This place is part of a fleet of power plants with the capacity to power more than seven million homes with some of the most highly skilled and trained professionals on duty around-the-clock as safely-controlled nuclear reactions take place.

And, some days, you have to stop and patiently wait while a flock of wild turkeys crosses the road.

For decades, Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet has been a dedicated environmental steward. Our six nuclear power plants generate clean electricity, emitting no greenhouse gases or air pollutants, and the plants themselves are designed to operate in harmony with the environment. The structures physically create a small ecological footprint with little impact on their surroundings. The additional acres of land surrounding a plant, provide a safe, ideal habitat for diverse and wide-ranging species of plants and animals to thrive. On any given day, you are likely to glimpse some form of wildlife at these locations – from woodland inhabitants such as deer and foxes, to bald eagles and sea turtles.  

Duke Energy takes its responsibility of operating in a manner that protects the health and safety of the public and the environment very seriously, and our nuclear facilities take pride in caring for their communities. The sites are committed to being good neighbors to all – whether those neighbors live in the heart of the city, or nest in the woods – and numerous wildlife protection plans are in place to ensure all lives that are touched are valued and protected. In addition, Duke Energy offers a number of environmental education programs for students of all ages, and employees participate in hours of environmental volunteer projects and other initiatives throughout the year.

While entrance to a plant’s heavily guarded and secure fenced-in properties is restricted, vast acreage of adjoining and associated land is preserved and open for public use and recreation. This open space allows the land to be shared among nature, Duke Energy and outdoor enthusiasts as a destination for camping, hiking, fishing, boating, water sports and mountain biking, among many other outdoor activities.

Due to it's proximity to Lake Norman, osprey are commonnly seen at McGuire Nuclear Station.
Due to it's proximity to Lake Norman, osprey are commonnly seen at McGuire Nuclear Station.

With the exception of Brunswick Nuclear Plant, all of Duke Energy’s nuclear facilities sit on manmade lakes specifically created to support power generation. Not only are these lakes critical to plant operations, they are home to a wide variety of wildlife, and also attract a number of birds that travel to the Carolinas for the winter months. More than 150 species migrate to North and South Carolina, and many nest near or on the lakes. Standing on the lakeshore, you can spy any number of feathered fliers overhead – from hummingbirds to bald eagles – as well as others wading or swimming across the lake’s surface.

Duke Energy has a comprehensive Avian Protection Plan, and also operates a Migratory Bird Hotline people can call if they have questions or if they encounter an injured bird.

And of course, these thousands of surface acres of clean, healthy lakes are every fisherman’s dream. The five plants located on lakes provide public access for fishing for the weekend sportsman, to the most experienced angler. Duke Energy biologists and environmental scientists work in conjunction with government environmental agencies to closely monitor and ensure natural habitats remain safe and the lakes continue to support healthy fish populations.

Harris Nuclear Plant in New Hill, N.C. sits on the shore of the 4,100 acre Harris Lake. The lake is recognized as one of the best largemouth bass fishing lakes in North Carolina. According to Duke Energy biologists, the healthy fish population is a result of a “perfect balance of nutrients and aquatic vegetation.” The lake is accessible by two boat ramps operated by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and is also accessible from Harris Lake County Park. Duke Energy leases the park property to Wake County, who oversees daily operations. The park includes an accessible community fishing pier.

North of Charlotte, McGuire Nuclear Station offers a public access fishing area on Lake Norman, the largest man-made body of fresh water in North Carolina. Duke Energy partnered with the State to establish Lake Norman State Park, and also built bank fishing areas and public boating access areas along the shoreline. Through its “Fish-Friendly Piers” program, Duke Energy worked with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to construct artificial fish habitat at McGuire’s boat dock to attract more fish, such as largemouth bass, striped bass and hybrid bass. Other popular sportfish can be found southwest of Charlotte in Lake Wylie, the lake on which Catawba Nuclear Station is located.

Oconee Nuclear Station provides a fishing pier on the 18,500 acre Lake Keowee in South Carolina.

The fishing pier at Oconee Nuclear Station's World of Energy is a popular spot for families.
The fishing pier at Oconee Nuclear Station's World of Energy is a popular spot for families.

Over the years, Oconee has hosted numerous events at its World of Energy education center, exposing thousands of visitors to the state’s abundant natural resources and encouraging families to be environmentally conscious and active outdoors. The lake is home to three types of bass – largemouth, smallmouth and spotted – as well as other warm-water gamefish such as trout, crappie, bluegill, yellow perch and catfish.

Residents and visitors to Hartsville, S.C. frequently take advantage of public boat ramps and a fishing pier on Lake Robinson, adjacent to Robinson Nuclear Plant. Those wishing to enjoy the lake’s rustic terrain for more than one day can stay overnight in one of the campgrounds along the shores of the 2,250 acre lake. Bass, bream and catfish are among the species of fish pursued by sport fishermen.

While Brunswick Nuclear Plant in Southport, N.C. is the lone plant that is not situated on a lake, it is located on the Cape Fear River, also near a rather large body of water – the Atlantic Ocean. This location provides the opportunity to encounter unique wildlife that will not be found at any other plant in the fleet, such as saltwater fish, crabs, shrimp and sea turtles.

Because the plant is near the ocean, migrating sea turtles and other marine life occasionally find themselves on plant property when unusual tides and storms push them through protective barriers in an on-site canal. The station has invested millions to keep sea life safe, and has an active turtle protection and monitoring program in place. When a sea turtle is found on plant property, the site’s environmental specialists capture it and give it a thorough checkup.

Depending on the turtle's condition, plant scientists may partner with the state of North Carolina to provide additional care or rehabilitation. If the turtle is healthy, it’s tagged with a tracking device that allows Duke Energy and the state to monitor its migration habits in order to protect them. After being tagged, the turtles are released back into the ocean from a safe location.

Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet is proud of the role it plays in serving as caretaker to the environment and all its inhabitants – whether in the sky, woods or water; from the mountains to the coast, from the high country to the low country.

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