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Catawba Nuclear Power Plant, Lake Wylie, South Carolina

The Catawba Nuclear Power Station is the largest nuclear power plant in South Carolina, although the Oconee plant in Seneca has a greater capacity for energy production. The Catawba Power Plant is located on Lake Wylie, a man-made lake that provides a source of coolant water to the plant. The plant is operated by Duke Energy Power Company, LLC, and is jointly owned by Duke Energy, North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, and Saluda River Electric Co-op, Inc.

The Catawba Nuclear Power Plant has two pressurized water reactors: Unit 1 began production in 1985, followed by Unit 2 in 1986. Combined, these two units have the capacity to generate 2,258 megawatts of electricity. Unlike most nuclear power plants, which use enriched uranium as a fuel source, the Catawba Power Plant recycles plutonium from military weapons programs as part of a program called Megatons to Megawatts.

The Megatons to Megawatts Program

After the end of the Cold War, the US government was left with a large supply of weapons-grade nuclear materials. This presented a number of health and security risks. First, nuclear materials must be stored and disposed of very carefully, as it produces dangerous levels of radiation. In addition, disastrous accidents or attacks may occur if the substances are stolen.

As a partial solution to this problem, the governments of the US and Russia developed the Megatons to Megawatts Program. In this program, high-grade plutonium and uranium are converted into a lower grade substance called MOX, or mixed oxide fuel. MOX can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants like the Catawba Power Station, providing a useful service as well as a safe disposal of formerly weapons-grade materials.

Of course, safety must be a top priority at plants that use MOX fuel. The Catawba Nuclear Power Plant utilizes a variety of technology to make it even more secure than the average power plant. Unfortunately, workers at this plant may have been exposed to another risk. Many power plants constructed prior to 1987 contain or have contained the dangerous mineral asbestos. Anyone who has been employed in a power plant of any kind should be aware of this potential risk.

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