Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Station

The Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station, also known as Summer Station or VC Summer, is a nuclear-powered generating station that is located Fairfield County, South Carolina. Located near Jenkinsville, this location operates a water reactor that can create up to 966 megawatts and provides energy for much of the local area.

VC Summer sits on top of the Monticello Reservoir that provides the water to cool the reactor. This facility was also ground-zero for the Carolinas Virginia Tube Reactor (CVTR) experiment that was later decommissioned. Currently, the pressurized water reactor that is active on this site is a Westinghouse model. On January 1, 1984, this reactor was given a standard 40-year operation license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This company applied for an extension of the license which was granted and is set to expire on November 12, 2042.

The now-defunct CVTR was created to test the idea of water cooling a reactor to produce electrical power. This reactor created a thermal output of about 65 megawatts and produced precisely 17 megawatts. Once the tests were deemed a success, a larger version of this design was created for the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station. Eventually, the first CVTR was shut down and its license removed. At the moment, there is no fuel in this reactor and the site was demolished in 2007, though the larger reactor continues to run.

A pressurized water reactor uses water to regulate the temperature of the nuclear core. Water comes in contact with the high-temperature elements and travel out to a heat exchanger. The heat exchangers allow hot water to heat up a “cold loop” that does not come in contact with the radiation. Heated water becomes steam and turns turbines in the same manner as a coal-burning plant.

Despite the lack of fumes and combustibles, asbestos was still used in many nuclear power plants to insulate pipes, conduits, and other reactor elements. This same mineral that was used to protect workers and facilities from fire dangers can actually cause diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis. These diseases are caused by breathing asbestos fibers into the lungs where they become trapped. In addition to the workers themselves, many family members of power plant employees have also been exposed to asbestos due to the lack of decontamination procedures in the past.