Exclusive Access Inside The Gates Of The Limerick Nuclear Power Plant
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- You probably never knew thousands of gallons of local water poured down the sides of the cooling towers at the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant.
"We get about 18,000 gallons a minute from the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen Creek and that's makeup water for the steam," said Rick Libra, vice president of the plant.
Libra took CBS3 where no cameras have been before: inside one of the plant's cooling towers.
"We make electricity for over 2 million Pennsylvanians and businesses," Libra said.
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Nuclear power begins with the splitting of uranium atoms, a process called "fission." Fission creates heat, which is passed to water to produce steam.
"That steam is sent through our turbine, that rotates the turbine, generating electricity in the generator and the steam is condensed and sent right back to the reactor to complete the cycle again," Libra said.
These cooling towers do just what their name suggests -- cool down the steam.
Nuclear power is considered a source of clean energy because it does not emit any carbon.
"It's different from solar or wind in that we have a continuous supply of fuel here at Limerick, so only have to refuel every two years," said Libra. "We operate at constant power, over 94 percent availability at all time. We're always on for that two year period."
Pennsylvania's nuclear plants make up about 93 percent of the state's clean energy.
But the plants' operator, Exelon, doesn't know how much longer its three plants in Pennsylvania, including Limerick, will continue to operate due to high costs and lack of financial support from the government. Their hope is lawmakers at the federal and local level will do more to support nuclear energy.
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"The loss of Limerick or the rest of the PA nuclear fleet would devastating for the local economies," said David Fein, Exelon's vice president of state government affairs.
The primary concern with nuclear power is the potential for exposure to radiation.
"A typical worker gets less radiation in a year than two dental x-rays that you might get at the dentist. Radiation is a byproduct of nuclear energy but it's very manageable and controlled," Libra said.
Safety was constantly on the mind of the guides as they led CBS3 around the plant.
"We live here, we work here, so we're concerned about that and again, safety is our number one priority," said Libra.
Their hope is this plant continues to be in this neighborhood, generating power for generations to come.
In late October, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a resolution supporting nuclear energy. That resolution urges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure nuclear power receives proper compensation and support.
The Limerick plant's current operating license runs through 2044 for unit one and 2049 for unit two.
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