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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Walking Shoes a Must to Tour the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station

PVNGS at night. Photo by: Paul Escen,
Arizona Public Service Company (APS)

Last week, a group of co-workers and I caravanned across metro Phoenix to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS) near Tonopah, Arizona. Situated on more than 4,000 acres of land, PVNGS’s three pressurized water reactors provide electric power to the southwest.

Nuclear power plants use the heat generated from nuclear fission in a contained environment to convert water to steam, which powers the generators to produce electricity.

Driving down the road towards the plant, the cooling towers, billowing steam vapor into the air, grew in size as we got closer to the station.

We climbed out of our vans and began the process of entering the plant. After we signed in, had our ID’s checked, and walked through a metal detector, we met our guide to begin the tour. Walking through the compound, I was surprised to learn that more than a mile separates reactor one from reactor three. The containment buildings are so large (about 20 stories high), it does not seem like they are that far apart.

One of the interesting things we got to do was visit the control room simulator built out exactly like the control room’s that run each reactor. Red buttons, green buttons, temperature gauges, flashing lights and levers were all over the walls of the room. Tables were set up with computer screens showing numbers, temperatures and other diagnostic information.

The simulation control room is a place where Palo Verde employees can exercise response plans and procedures to an emergency occurring in the reactors. It is a safe environment to practice responding to and working through alerts and emergencies.

Some interesting facts I learned on my tour of PVNGS:
  • Construction of PVNGS began in 1976. The first unit went into commercial operation in 1986. The third in
    Reactor fuel assembly
    Photo by: Paul Escen, APS
    1988. The total cost to build the plant was $2.6 billion.
  • Palo Verde generates 3,810 megawatts of power to more than 4 million people in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
  • The plant has a full-time fire department, security detail and medical staff.
  • It is the largest nuclear energy generating facility in the United States, employing close to 2,500 people.
  • The reactors and steam generators are housed in airtight, reinforced, concrete structures, which are designed to withstand the force of a 747 jet airplane impact.
  • Palo Verde is the only nuclear energy facility in the world to use treated sewage effluent for cooling water in its towers. The water is treated in an 80-acre reservoir. Twenty billion gallons of this water are recycled yearly.
  • It is a zero-emissions facility, using no fossil fuels to generate electricity.
  • The plant is unique in that it is the only one in the world situated in the desert, not next to a large body of water. 

The Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), PVNGS, the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management and the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency annually review, exercise and revise the offsite emergency response plan, which details how state, local and plant personnel will respond to an emergency at the plant.

The Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) has preparedness information available online. To find out more about PVNGS and DEMA’s involvement, email  

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