An incredible journey: Oconee’s first reactor vessel transport broke records for scope of haul

Note: The information provided below is from Duke Energy archives and a special edition of The Greenville News, published on Aug. 22, 1975.

The arrival of the first nuclear reactor vessel at Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C., marked the end of one of modern history’s most complicated hauling jobs.

The 340-ton vessel ended its long journey in February 1970, nearly two months after leaving the Babcock and Wilcox plant in Mount Vernon, Indiana.

Enroute to its base at Oconee, the huge vessel traveled by barge, special rail car and on the world’s largest truck (at that time). It traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Barge Canal, the Intercoastal Waterway, the Savannah River and 145 miles of road and rail bed.

The total distance covered was almost 2,000 miles.

The reactor vessel was set in place on Feb. 8, 1970, 55 days and 5.5 hours after it left Indiana. Oconee’s two additional reactor vessels would arrive in 1970 and 1971.

Oconee Nuclear Station unit 1 began commercial operation on July 16, 1973; the site is celebrating 50 years of reliable, carbon-free energy in 2023.

Reactor vessel stats:

  • Approximately 40 feet tall
  • Weighs approximately 340 tons without additional equipment attachments or fuel
  • Inside diameter approximately 14 feet
  • Vessel thickness 8.5 inches   
  • Houses 177 fuel assemblies

Haul stats:

  • A huge truck carried the load for 45 miles, moving at 5 miles per hour. Built in France, it weighed 175 tons empty, had 240 wheels and was powered by two 600-horsepower tractors. It could support up to 600 tons.
  • At one point, a railroad bridge was jacked up 1 ½ feet for the truck to pass under, then it was lowered back into place.
  • At another place, a custom-built set of portable barges and ramps were used to “float” the entire load across a creek. An island in the middle of the stream was cut in half to provide a straight shot to the other side.

Photo journey:

The new reactor vessel glides through the Florida Barge Canal toward the Intercoastal Waterway.
north augusta
Once the vessel was docked at a special barge landing in North Augusta, S.C., it was loaded onto a 240-wheel truck for the upcoming 145-mile overland route to Oconee. In the foreground, an “Atoms for Peace” event takes place on Jan. 5, 1970.
The truck weighed approximately 175 tons without the reactor vessel and was driven at a maximum 5 miles per hour by a rotation of 10 drivers.
To cross Stevens Creek near North Augusta, the vessel was, again, loaded onto a barge to avoid an inadequate highway bridge. An island in the middle of the stream had to be cut in half to provide a straight shot to the other side.
After nearly 2,000 miles and two months in transit, the reactor vessel reaches Oconee Nuclear Station during construction, February 1970.
Despite its tremendous size, the vessel is dwarfed by Oconee’s unit 1 containment building, which is its permanent home. The World of Energy education center, which opened in 1969, is in the background.
Workers begin attaching this special lift and guide equipment to move the vessel inside the containment building. A special rail line was built to move the vessel.


Comments (4)

Posted August 02, 2023 by Phillip Bowers
I remember playing under that hauler while it was parked at the Newry railhead. Amazed at all the wheels! I was 10 years old. lol :)
Posted July 29, 2023 by Lester Cook
I arrived at Oconee in March 1970. Didn't take me so long to get there and the roads were sufficient. At least I was there to welcome units two and three vessels, a site to behold and when I will always remember. Absolutely a great article.
Posted July 26, 2023 by Melissa Yeoh
What a complex journey! Great story and photos. Thanks, MK!
Posted July 20, 2023 by theodore finn
Excellent Story. I wonder how much the travel path and the speed of the move would change with today's technology. Thanks Mikayla

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