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Byron nuclear plant is a beehive of construction activity as filtering system is replaced

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 2:04 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 2:41 p.m. CDT
Caption
Workers inspect the side of one of the cooling towers while others monitor from the top of the 500’ tower on Sept. 20. Photo by Chris Johnson
Caption
A fill pack is lifted into place inside the cooling tower Sept. 20 below the recently installed nozzles. Photo by Chris Johnson

A steady flow of tractors hauling trailers carrying new components was part of the beehive of construction activity last week at Exelon's Byron Generating Station as crews replace parts in the cooling tower.

"This is construction," said Bill James, the manager of the project. "This is an exciting time for all of us."

James conducted a tour of the work site Sept. 20, pointing out the changes being made to the cooling tower for the Unit 1 reactor.

Some of the work is being done while the reactor is offline for a scheduled refueling outage.

More than 2,200 additional workers were brought to the site to assist with the refueling, maintenance procedures, and refurbishing of the cooling tower.

Of those workers, 310 are assigned to the cooling tower.

The second tower will be refurbished next spring when Unit 2 goes offline for refueling.

The 500-foot high towers cool water from the Rock River that is used in the electricity-producing part of the facility.

The facility’s two reactors have separate cooling equipment.

James said that work began on project several weeks ago when the old fill packs, which were clogged with debris and silt from the river water, were removed.

"Thirty-one thousand cubic yards of material was removed from this cooling tower," he said.

Crews have already installed the 21,594 spray nozzles which distribute the heated water from generating electricity over the fill packs.

A total of 2,550 fill packs, each weighing a ton, will be installed in the tower.

James said more than half are already in place.

The fill packs were last replaced in 1992, he said.

In early July, plant officials discovered that the old fill packs were no longer cooling efficiently and brought in portable water-cooling devices.

The work to refurbish the first tower began at that point, and James said it will not be completed for several weeks yet.

The project will be ongoing even after Unit 1 comes back online.

James said the work goes on around the clock with large stadium lights used to illuminate the construction area.

The project relies on the skilled work force, who he said are carpenters, laborers, pipe fitters, and engineers from northern Illinois, including the Chicago area.

"We can't do it without them," he said.

He stressed the importance of following safety at the site.

"We want these workers to go home to their families the same way they came," he said.

Planning has been key to the project running smoothly.

James said it began 18 months in advance of construction starting, and involves strategic placement of the fill packs and other components, as well as carrying out the work stages in the most efficient order.

"The job is spread out over seven acres," he said. "It's a constant flow of motion, a constant orchestration."

Heavy equipment and loads of materials around the construction site in an almost choreographed flow.

For example, he said, 800 truckloads of fill packs came in, and each fill pack is handled four times from unloading to installation.

"We learn from each time we do a project like this how we can improve and do it better," James said.

In just a few months they will do it all over again when work begins on the Unit 2 cooling tower.

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