Nuclear energy has been touted for its carbon emissions free electricity production, but also draws sharp criticism from environmentalists for its dangers and hazardous waste byproducts. But a nuclear energy plant like Burke County’s Plant Vogtle takes up a large amount of land and has environmental responsibilities beyond radioactive material.
Across its 3,100 acres, much of the land isn’t occupied by buildings or reactors but is managed by land and wildlife programs. According to Southern Company, the largest owner and the operating company at Vogtle, the company works with Georgia Department of Natural Resources in a number of ecological programs.
In 2015, Georgia Power, a Southern Company subsidiary, was awarded the International Conservation Award by the Wildlife Habitat Council for progress in wildlife habitat enhancement, restoration and conservation education. At Vogtle, they have concentrated efforts to reestablish Longleaf Pine trees in collaboration with Georgia DNR.
A Georgia Power spokesperson said, “In all of our operations, we are committed to protecting the environment and the state’s natural resources.”
About 700 of those acres are enrolled in the safe harbor program to maintain habitats and populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Voglte has a zero baseline for the woodpeckers, meaning that none were found to live on the site.
However, just across the river at Savannah River Site, those woodpeckers have been the focus of conservation efforts since the 1980’s that resulted in bolstered populations and habitats. Savannah River Site and Vogtle are only separated by several hundred feet along their Savannah River borders.
Some concerns remain, though, as units 3 and 4 are under construction at the plant. Currently Vogtle draws about 64 million gallons of water from the Savannah daily, about 45 million of which are evaporated through electricity production. Those numbers are set to double once the two new units go live in 2019 and 2020.
According to a Georgia Power spokesperson, “We’ve pledged that our operations will protect the environment; we test as required by all regulations. That means we monitor the site including the land, air, and water surrounding it constantly to ensure that those resources are protected. Through our operating license obligations and various other permits, we collect a wide range of water quality data, and we maintain compliance at or above regulatory standards.”
In order to maintain and control wildlife populations around the site, employees are allowed to bow hunt in certain areas of the property. Feral hogs are known to damage the land and property, so the hunting zones help keep those populations under control, according to a company spokesperson.
In addition to the other measures, Vogtle also oversees a prescribed burning program to maintain habitats and lower the facility’s risk if a wildfire was ever to threaten the area. According to Georgia Power, company efforts are aimed at responsible environmental stewardship while trying to meet customers’ growing energy demands.