Guest Post by NEI’s Senior Media Relations Manager Mitch Singer
Last week, NEI’s media team partnered with Exelon to host a sizable and impressive contingent of reporters for a tour of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We had representatives from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Reuters, Bloomberg, National Journal and Climate Wire. We were delighted to be able to help the journalists see first-hand the facility’s industrial robustness and strong security presence and to interact directly with some of TMI’s dedicated professionals.
My NEI media team colleague Tom Kauffman, a former reactor operator at Three Mile Island, joined me on the tour. Tom was actually working at TMI at the time of the accident in 1979, so be brings a wealth of perspective for the touring reporters. Ralph DeSantis, TMI’s Manager of Outreach Programs, led the tour, and he was aided by Craig Nesbit, Exelon’s Vice President for Communications, and Dave Tillman, Communications Manager for Exelon Corporate.
Early in the tour, our hosts led the reporters into the operator training simulator. Operators at every nuclear plant in the U.S. re-train once every five weeks, and they are challenged by ever-differing scenarios.
The reporters were very engaged, peppering our tour guides with thoughtful queries. I spent time with one reporter, who had been based overseas for more than a decade, discussing security. He’d visited nuclear plant sites in Europe, but never toured a U.S. nuclear plant. We discussed how the nuclear industry’s security enhancements have been recognized by many independent groups as having the best security in the industrial infrastructure; how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and companies conduct comprehensive security drills; and how the Department of Homeland Security uses the nuclear industry’s security posture as a template for other industries.
As we rode on a bus from the training center across the bridge to the island, DeSantis pointed out how the flood barriers that have been in place since the plant was built go beyond anything that would be necessary in the event of a worst-case flood. He cited as an example a record storm in the area a few years ago and how at its highest level the water in the Susquehanna River never came near to breaching the site’s flood wall.
Everyone received a great history lesson when we went through the unit 2 control room. The accident at TMI brought a lot of helpful lessons to the entire nuclear industry, including the formation of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, based in Atlanta. DeSantis pointed out the differences and changes in the control room circa 1979 to the control rooms of today. One thing that stood out is that certain gauges in control room Unit 2 more than 30 years ago were not within sight of the operators. You had to walk around to another part of the room. Not the case in the control rooms of today.
At lunch the reporters gathered around Ralph and the other Exelon executives and asked a lot of questions. One reporter was most focused on post-Fukushima enhancements and asked a great question regarding whether the cleanup effort at TMI offered lessons to the Japanese. Our hosts spoke extensively to the subject. They mentioned that after the TMI accident the Japanese came to the plant, and how there’s been some discussion with them post-Fukushima. They pointed out how advances in technology, including robotic cameras, are of great help in cleanup efforts at Fukushima. We also discussed the differences in training and safety protocols between Japan and the U.S. with the group.
With the travel time to and from the nation’s capital, it made for a long day but a rewarding one. NEI wants to thank the journalists who took part for taking the time to become better informed about one of the energy technologies they cover.