Nuclear plant takes precautions for terror threats as it looks to expand

WAYNESBORO, Ga.,None — Southern Company is close to final approval to expand the Vogtle nuclear power plant from two nuclear reactors to four, making it the only power plant in the country with four reactors on one site.

Protecting against a meltdown caused by natural occurrences such as earthquakes and tornados has always been a priority, but what about a terrorist attack?

Channel 2's John Pruitt saw firsthand the security enhancements that were made at the Vogtle nuclear power plant after 9/11.

The two reactors at the plant supply up to 15 percent of Georgia's electric power. They are built to contain any possible radiation leaks from the inside. But since 9/11, many have wondered how much protection they offer from the outside.

"It's also designed to protect the equipment inside from any external forces -- say, a tornado," said Mike McCracken from Southern Company, which owns and operates the facility.

"Terrorist attack?" Pruitt asked.

"Right," McCracken answered.

"In real life, I seriously doubt that any nuclear power plant could withstand a direct attack from a fully laden 747," physicist Dr. Michio Kaku said.

Nuclear advocates said video of a test should ease concerns. It shows a fighter jet going 500 mph crashing into a reinforced concrete wall. Upon impact, the jet disintegrates.

The test was done to measure impact forces, not the strength of the wall. And the fighter jet's weight was only a fraction of what critics say is the real concern: a fully loaded jumbo jet

"We looked at that post-9-11. We had very detailed scientific studies and computer models done that looked at aircraft impacts and feel confident that in most circumstances the plants are adequately protected from that kind of event," said Roger Hannah, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees safety and security at reactor sites.

Reinforced concrete walls built to protect reactors are not new, but Pruitt saw many relatively recent safety enhancements

After 9/11, Southern Company spent millions in safety improvements at units 1 and 2. Those same enhancements would be included in the planned units 3 and 4.

In Waynesboro, any concerns over safety took a back seat to the expected tax revenue and jobs the plant can bring.

"You're always going to find a few people that don't like it at all because they are scared of nuclear. They hear 'nuclear' and they are scared. But for the mostpart, it has really made Burke County a much better place," resident Levi Bullock said.

The NRC is expected to grant the construction license very soon. If approved, the new reactors will come online in 2016 and 2017.