POPE COUNTY, Ark. — As apart of Nuclear Science Week, Meteorologist Skot Covert was granted rare access to Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO) – the state’s only nuclear plant.
Located along the banks of Lake Dardanelle in Pope County, Arkansas, Nuclear One is home to two nuclear reactors.
Unit 1 was constructed in 1974 and produces 836 megawatts of carbon-free electricity, and Unit 2 came online in 1980 supplying 987 megawatts of electricity.
ANO produces 82% of the state’s carbon-free electricity, enough to power nearly 1 million households according to Entergy.
But with great power, comes great responsibility.
It’s the heavy burden of responsibility that drives ANO’s commitment to safety and training. Operators of the two unit’s undergo rigorous training and coursework for two years. It’s only after being federally licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that one becomes an operator. Even then, the training never ends.
"So every five weeks they get tested, they have to pass, or they can't go back to the plant,” said Zac Lacy, a senior operations officer at the plant.
With no margin for error, training for any and all types of scenarios is at the very foundation of Entergy’s safety plans. To facilitate such a high degree of proficiency among its operators, all coursework and the required continuing education every six weeks is completed in a simulated control room.
These two simulated control rooms, each unique to the two nuclear reactors on site, are exact replicas on the actual control rooms.
Lacy states the design of simulator goes beyond just the buttons on a control board, but all encompassing of the entire room. From the doors, paint, to clock on the wall – if you walked into the simulator blind-folded it would be difficult to discern between the training facility and the actual control room.
The purpose behind such meticulous detail? Safety and experience. A similar example would be that of a pilot training in a flight simulator.
“We're training them for their worst case scenario to allow them to operate and practice the events that could happen at the plant so they will be prepared,” said Lacy.
The plant is home to over 1,000 employees, only 60 of which work in the control room. The other employees undergo highly specific training as well.
Meteorologist Skot Covert suited up in full anti-contamination gear and worked through a real-life simulation of working in spaces that are radiologically contaminated.
"You know when it comes down to it, we understand the technology, we understand the potential risk that there are and we take that responsibility seriously. But the technology itself, the training, the experience, and the professionalism really raises the level of safety where I have no problem having my wife and my children live in the local community,” said John Dinelli, site Vice President for Entergy.
While there are two reactors, one is more recognizable than the other. Unit 2 utilizes the iconic 447-foot cooling tower that is seen prominently from the River Valley, including Interstate 40 and Highway 64.
"On unit two, we use a cooling tower for cooling the water that goes through the turbine, and on unit one we use Lake Dardanelle. The reason for the difference is we want to make sure we don't put too much heat into Lake Dardanelle,” explains Gary Sullins, a senior staff instructor at ANO.
Each reactor unit is designed to run continuously for 18 months. Then, the plant shuts down for about one month to replace the uranium fuel in the reactor. This is known as an “outage.”
During an outage, hundreds of contractors are brought in to perform maintenance, which more than doubles the amount of employees at the plant.