Yes, I work in a nuclear power plant, in Ascó

Detail of the post-tensioning system of the containment building.

I still remember the frightened look on the faces of my classmates in a photography seminar, one of my hobbies, when I told them that I work in a nuclear power plant, in Ascó. And by the way, I have been working there for 40 years; that is, before it started operating. When I saw how frightened they looked, I jokingly told them to turn off the lights to see that I did not glow in the dark. "I am not phosphorus green! I have two hands with ten fingers! I'm normal!" I explained to them that on a daily basis I see the security measures with which we operate, I see how my more than 1,000 colleagues work, their professionalism, and I see all the training we have all had to undertake and on which we are regularly tested.   

But it is true that a lot of people still find it difficult to understand what we do and how work is done in a nuclear power plant and this is what I do. Every day I explain to people of all ages what happens at the plant and what nuclear energy is. I explain, but I've never tried to convince anyone of anything. I just answer their queries and give as much information as I can.

Inspection of the tubes, guides and welds of the upper core internals.
Operators protected with masks against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Erection of scaffolding inside the containment building.

When they mention any fears that, for example, there would be a repeat of Fukushima, I explain that all the plants in the world had to strengthen their security systems so that the same thing that happened in Japan would not happen again. 

But visitors no longer express fear, rather there is a lot of curiosity. And there are very surprising visits, such as that of a four-and-a-half-year-old boy who stated to me with complete certainty and conviction that he will discover nuclear fusion. Or that of an 11-year-old boy who made a detailed plan of his own power plant and that is on exhibition today in ours. Five years later, that boy, now a teenager, assembled the model of his power plant and wanted to make it work!

It is the future generations, those passionate about research and technology, who will find out how to take advantage of and get the most out of the spent fuel of our plants, another very common question among visitors.

Interno superior del núcleo del reactor en su stand.
Detail of the storage cells in the spent fuel pool.
José Vilchez José Vilchez
Detail of the post-tensioning system of the containment building.
“The town was transformed. The mentality has been changing because the quality of life has improved a lot and because over time, the neighbours have realised that there was no reason to fear the plant.”.
Overhaul of core thermocouple connectors in reactor vessel head.

A good neighour

But this change of mentality that we are seeing in our visitors can also be seen within the town of Ascó itself and which was formerly a predominantly agricultural community. Not only because the quality of life improved a lot, but because, as time went by, the neighbours realized that there was no reason to fear the plant. The power plant came to be seen as a good neighbour who provides you with benefits. 

Working at the plant has provided many local residents with economic security and stability that the countryside, where harvests are sometimes better and sometimes worse, could never offer us. So people were abandoning rural work and dedicating themselves more to industry, to the power plant in Ascó. The countryside became a second source of income or just an entertainment: After the eight hours at the plant, you would take care of your land.

“The power plant came to be seen as a good neighbour who provides you with benefits.”

Apart from living comfortably, the town and the region gained in infrastructure as a result of the contribution made by the plant to the municipality with the taxes paid and agreements and collaborations with the Regional Council of the Ribera d'Ebre and other entities and municipalities, as well as helping with numerous projects and initiatives by social and cultural entities. The plant has been the number one source of revenue for the town and the region and, without a doubt, one of the great industries of the province of Tarragona.

Entrance sluice to the containment building.
Gallery demineralization system in the auxiliary building.
Detail of laundry baskets in the passage areas.

We are part of the solution

What is more, every 18 months when we refuel, which takes approximately 35 days, workers from outside the plant come, an additional 1,000 workers. Many are from our region, and this provides a boost in employment for the area; others come from further away and stay in our towns, which also provides a boost for the local economy.

Both the workers who come to carry out the recharges and those of us who are here on a stable basis share some characteristics that are very typical of our activity and that sometimes lead us to joke with the people in our social environment: "We can see that you work in a nuclear power plant" and in that sentence spoken half-jokingly, you become aware of our heightened attention to safety, awareness, and responsibility in our activities. We are not unique, but our professional profile is somewhat peculiar and some of these attitudes are often carried into our daily lives, such as, for example, taking the handrail on the stairs...

“We are part of the solution as we prepare for the energy transition.”
General view of the Ascó II control center during refueling and photos of panel details in the room.
“Every 18 months when we refuel, which takes approximately 35 days, workers from outside the plant come, an additional 1,000 workers and this also provides a boost for entrepreneurs in the region.”

And I am still here in this power plant that is literally an extension of my home. The fact is, the area where the cooling tower and the high-voltage electricity sub-station (380 kv) are now located used to be one of my father's farms, a small part of my past from where I look to the future. We are part of the solution as we prepare, as a society and as a planet, for the energy transition that presents a huge challenge, decarbonisation.

Josep Miquel Biarnes Sanz 

Responsible for the Information Centre of the Ascó - Vandellós II Nuclear Association (ANAV)

 

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