Cover Story: Inside McGuire Nuclear Station

HUNTERSVILLE, NC (WBTV) - We're getting a closer look at how a majority of people in our area get their power.

No doubt you've seen the McGuire Nuclear plant if you've been to Lake Norman but very few have ever seen the inside.

WBTV got a rare glimpse at what goes on inside the heavily-secured facility.

Duke Energy's McGuire Nuclear Station marks its 30-th birthday on December 1, 2011.

Never in the history of the plant have they allowed a large media contingent to tour the facility set on 700-acres in north Mecklenburg county.  Until now.

Razor wire - outside.  Tight security - inside.  No it's not a jail.  And we're not at the airport.

But a place many have seen from the outside.  Never like this from the inside.

"We are now inside what's called the protected area," says Regis Repko, the site vice president of the McGuire Nuclear Station in Huntersville.

He guided our tour.

It began in the cold and rain.  And quickly moved into the warm heat of the turbine building, which you can't mistake for the noise.

And the heat, a balmy near 100-degrees.  Temperatures in the room can go up to 120-degees in the summertime.

In the turbine building are big gray machines, which are the turbines.  And they power a massive generator.  Here is where electricity is made.

"Where is it we're going? To the spent fuel pool."

The used fuel pool is the highest-secured place in the plant.

And where we had to wear two different radiation monitoring devices and don protective gear to keep out contaminants.

It's here where the nuclear reactor's fuel assemblies are kept.

"When you think about it in terms of safety.. this structure.. the walls of the pool are four feet of reinforced concrete," said Repko.

The fuel assemblies (which provide the nuclear power) are kept underwater, 23 feet below the surface.  Water provides a shield from radiation and keeps the fuel assemblies cool.

The spent fuel rods are kept inside in two pools, together the size of half a football field.

Spent fuel is also kept in a secured site outside the plant, encased in steel and concrete with a secure fence surrounding it.

"They can stay here indefinitely really," says the site vice president.

"We're in Control Room for Unit 1 and 2."  The brains of the place - the control room - full of monitors and gauges.

It's here where a team of operators monitors activity around the clock every day of the year.

The plant operations runs a majority of the time on autopilot, but staff is here should anything arise.

In the 30 years the plant operated McGuire has gone no higher that the second of four emergency alert levels.

McGuire's two reactors, the gray round buildings, produce enough electricity to power two cities the size of Charlotte.

They are licensed by the federal government to operate for about the next 30 years.

McGuire and the Catawba Nuclear Station to Charlotte's south in York county help lay the foundation for the region to now begin chasing a national reputation of becoming an energy hub.

McGuire has its own security force.  Its own fire department.  Some 12-hundred people work at the site.

Workers go through an incredible amount of training and re-training.  They're overseen by the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved.