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The American Hero Behind Plant Vogtle

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Steve McQueen
On this day in 1944, 76 Allied prisoners of war broke out of a Nazi POW camp. It was a daring operation that later became known as "The Great Escape" thanks to a book and film adaptation of the same name. What in the world does this have to do with nuclear energy?

One of the main characters in the film is U.S. Army Air Force pilot Virgil Hilts. He was played by Hollywood legend Steve McQueen. Virgil Hilts was just a fictional character. But Alvin Vogtle was the real deal.

I'll let NEI's Mark Flanagan pick it up from here in an excerpt from a 2010 blog post about the federal loan guarantees for the construction of two AP-1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia.

* * *
Who was Alvin Ward Vogtle, Jr., after whom the plant is named? According to his 1994 New York Time obituary, he was:
A former president and chairman of the Atlanta-based Southern Company.
Vogtle (3rd from right) & his POW bunk mates.
Well, that makes sense. But here’s what really caught our eye in the obituary:
Captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, he made four unsuccessful escape attempts. On his fifth try, in 1943, he reached safety by scaling a 14-foot barbed-wire border fence and crossing the Rhine to Switzerland.
That’s dramatic, not to mention heroic. Might make a good movie, no?

* * * 
As Mark later mentioned, the screenwriters, as is their wont, took some liberties with the exact details about Vogtle's escape attempts, but the real story leaves no doubt: Vogtle was a true American hero, and our industry is proud that the plant bears his name.

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