News 12 at 6 O'clock, February 11, 2010
WAYNESBORO, Ga.---It's a construction project on a massive scale with an army of more than three thousand construction workers to get the job done.
They're already hard at work building the nation's first nuclear reactors in decades. And it's happening right along the Savannah River in Burke County. In a News 12 Special Assignment, we take you inside The Big Dig.
The twin cooling towers at Plant Vogtle rise 548 feet above the Savannah River, dwarfing even the tallest pines. It's the largest nuclear power facility in Georgia, and it's about to get even bigger.
Vogtle Expansion Job Opportunities
There are opportunities with Southern Company, Shaw Group, Morgan Corporation, Westinghouse Corporation, and Williams Power. Click here for details.
About the Expansion
Southern Company says Vogtle was built with the option to expand, and that "Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will be among the first new nuclear units built in the U.S. in the last three decades."
How Nuclear Plants Work
According to Southern Company, "a nuclear power plant is not all that different from coal, oil, or gas fueled plants. The main difference is that at a nuclear power plant, the heat used to make steam is produced by fission." Click here to learn more.
David Jones is the man in charge of it all for The Southern Company. He walked us through a cluster of portable buildings, perched on the edge of one of the nation's biggest construction sites.
"We have Southern Company, we have Southern Nuclear, we have Shaw and Westinghouse all represented here," Jones said, describing the team effort it takes to get it all done.
Stepping out from the maze of portables, we arrived at an observation deck overlooking the construction project.
"This will be the largest nuclear plant in the United States when we complete the projects on 3 and 4," Jones said. As he finished speaking, the noise of another dump truck drowned out the conversation.
Over the next five years, the two existing cooling towers will be joined by two more, along with two brand new nuclear reactors.
Today, all you will see is a construction site covering 42 acres. That's about 5 football fields laid side to side.
Jones can already picture the future standing there on the deck. "Cooling tower for unit three will be right here to my left," he gestured.
Those towers are the signature mark of a nuclear power facility. But they will come later. The first step is to dig two massive holes where the reactors will sit.
From where we stood, we saw trucks criss-crossing far off in the distance. They're moving from deep below the surface to the edge of the man-made crater like a carefully choreographed dance.
Georgia's "Big Dig" makes them look like toys. But if you get closer, you can see that they're actually massive. The tires alone are nearly six feet tall. More than 100 of these trucks are rolling here non-stop.
They've been digging since August, and they won't stop until they hit solid rock. They're digging deep because those new reactors are built to withstand earthquakes.
Technology has changed a lot since Vogtle's first reactor was finished in 1987.
"This is the first nuclear construction and first nuclear units to be built in the United States in over 30 years," Jones said.
The new units will be up and running by 2016 and 2017, serving more than a million homes.
But even after 30 years of safe operation here, some people worry that nuclear power is not safe.
Jones told us, "Nuclear power is proven that it is safe, reliable and an economic solution to our needs going forward."
The Southern Company calls nuclear a green solution too. That smoke you see rising from the cooling towers really isn't smoke at all, but harmless water vapor.
So what's in it for you? Power in the future to keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer...but maybe even more important than that, jobs right now. They'll need a workforce of three thousand to build the new units and after that a crew of 800 to run them.
How do you tap in to those careers? We'll look at the need for nuclear workers in Georgia and in South Carolina in part 2 of this News 12 Special Assignment.