MORRIS – Operators at the Dresden Generating Station nuclear power plant in Morris continually reassess and update the plant, visitors learned at Saturday’s open house, even as recently as last year when upgrades were made to the plant following the 2011 Japan nuclear disaster.
One of Dresden’s shift managers was even sent to Fukushima, Japan, according to Dresden operator-in-training Scott Nagel, to study the plant and analyze information that could help engineers prevent similar issues at other nuclear plants.
Dresden communications manager Bob Osgood said Exelon holds an open house about once a year to answer questions from the public and to help them understand what nuclear energy is all about.
“People have a lot of misconceptions about nuclear energy,” Osgood said, “And there has been heightened interest since the events in Japan.”
Visitors learned how the “FLEX” strategy was implemented after Fukushima, Dresden operator Mike Condreay told visitors in the plant’s simulator room. “FLEX” is an additional backup system that would be used during a thousand-year flood. The purchase and installation of pumps and quick connect and disconnects were the direct result of research into the failure of the Japanese reactor, he said.
“Within an hour, we can get water fast,” Condreay said.
That’s just one of the redundant systems Dresden employs for emergency situations.
“Dresden is designed to protect itself,” Condreay said. “We have backups that protect backups that protect backups.”
Condreay and Nagel convinced Gibson Waldvogel, a 9-year-old Saint Rose Grade School student who attended the open house with his little brother and father. Gibson said he wasn’t scared of living two miles from the nuclear plant in Braidwood.
“The best part was learning about the fuel rods,” Gibson said after his tour of the simulation room. “I think it’s really cool. At Exelon, it really can’t blow up, because it doesn’t have enough uranium.”
Jim and Jackie Holm, of Gardner, attended the open house out of curiosity and to get some information on the safety of living nearby.
“I just wanted to know how these operate,” Jim said.
“I saw things I didn’t know, like how there is radiation in things we use every day,” Jackie said. “People don’t understand [radiation is] already here. People get scared because it’s such a large scale, but there are a lot of people watching over it.”
The open house was held in the station’s training facility, which has a full-scale mock-up of the control rooms of units 2 and 3. Condreay allowed Gibson to push buttons that simulated a “scram,” or a reactor shutdown. Several of the hundred or so lights on the panels lit up and flashed, and alarms sounded.
The computer-controlled systems immediately began correcting themselves. Condreay said the real systems respond the same way.
“The reactor will take care of itself, even if there are no operators in the room,” he told the visitors.
In addition to operators in the simulator room, Dresden staff were on hand at various stations to explain how the plant functions and to answer questions about safety, security, emergency preparedness and environmental footprints.
A table showed radiation dosage people receive in day-to-day activities, such as from smoke detectors, chest and dental X-rays, airline flights, working at a nuclear power plant and from cardiac catheterization procedures.
This was only the second open house held on-site at Dresden. The previous one was in December 2012. Before that, due to parking design constraints at the plant, open houses were held at other community locations.
Ed Schmidt, of Bradley, brought his grandson, Nathan Sasek, 12, of Bourbonnais. Schmidt used to work at the Braidwood station and said his family got the opportunity to tour that plant inside and out before it went online. He told his grandson about the 26-foot door inside the reactor that was nine feet thick and programmed to close in 52 seconds, no matter what was in its path.