By CHRISTOPHER CAREY
LUSBY, Md. (Oct. 28, 2008)—Sparked by interest in a proposed third reactor, the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant opened its doors Saturday for the first public tour of the facility since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Residents living within a five-mile radius of the plant were invited to get an inside look at their nuclear neighbor, with a particular emphasis on safety. Even with inclement weather throughout most of the day, 146 people attended the tour.
Since the 2001 airline hijackings, the plant has been closed to the general public and security around the facility has been greatly increased.
"It's been seven years," said James Spina, vice president of the Calvert Cliffs plant. "It was time."
Spina added that the idea to open the plant for tours came after public meetings for the proposed third reactor.
"I learned there were a lot of questions about the plant," said Spina. "We felt that it was appropriate to allow some fashion of general access."
The proposed third reactor has been opposed by several local anti-nuclear groups, which have voiced concerns about the impact that a new reactor would have on the environment and public health.
Constellation Energy Group Inc. hopes to have the new reactor operating by 2015, which would add approximately 1,600 megawatts to the generating capacity of the plant.
"The third unit would basically be the equivalent of our two reactors," said Dave Fitz, senior corporate communications consultant for Constellation Energy.
According to Constellation Energy, the two reactors at Calvert Cliffs, which began operating in the 1970s, produce about 1,700 megawatts of electricity and power more than 1 million homes.
Most noticeable during the tour was the security, which included armed guards, surveillance cameras and several screening checkpoints. Visitors were also assured the reactors would be able to withstand being struck by a commercial airliner.
In addition to the security, the highlights of the tour included a control room simulator and a close, outdoors look at the reactors.
"I've [lived] here for many years, but never been here," said Cindy Lent of St. Leonard, adding that the tour was "very interesting, very thorough and very friendly."
For many, the opportunity to tour the plant was a way to satisfy curiosity.
"I had never been in a power plant," said Hal Vogel of Lusby. "It was impressive."
The plant has been a mysterious presence in Calvert County since closing to the public seven years ago. This weekend's tour, however, was able to provide residents with a look into how the plant operates on a daily basis.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Lent, who praised the safety measures that the plant takes. "You get a very secure feeling."
Homes within a 10-mile radius of the power plant receive a copy of "Neighbor to Neighbor," a newsletter that informs residents of developments regarding the proposed reactor and other news related to the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. The newsletters can also be found on the Calvert County Department of Economic Development Web site: http://www.ecalvert.com/content/business/energyprojects/ccnpp.asp.
"We want to be open with the community," said Fitz. "We take our role of being a good neighbor seriously."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.