Braidwood nuclear plant nearly hit by tornado

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
BRAIDWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team looked at a close call for a nuclear plant when one of Monday night's twisters brushed by the Braidwood generating station.

Braidwood was built to take a direct hit from a tornado. It has concrete walls as thick as a refrigerator, reinforced by steel bars the size of your arm. The nuclear plant is rated to withstand 300 mph winds. But for a time, it was right in the path of a ferocious twister.

The tornado took down signs, bent utility poles, snapped power lines and cracked trees in half, all within the Braidwood nuclear plant perimeter.

"This has been a freak two years," said Braidwood Mayor James Vehrs.

Freaky and lucky, Vehrs said, because it is the second time in two tornado seasons that the nuclear plant has been in the path of a twister.

According to weather records, the facility that provides power to much of metro Chicago has been in the middle of an incredibly active tornado zone for the 27 years it's been here, but it again dodged a direct hit.

"It came across I-55 at Reid Road and we were very fortunate it didn't go further south," Vehrs said.

Tornado-strikes-nuclear-plant was the subject of the movie "Atomic Twister" with catastrophic results. But in real life, the few times a twister has actually hit an atomic power plant the ending hasn't been that bad.

The Quad Cities nuclear plant was struck twice, in 1990 and 1996. Neither time was there critical damage or was anyone hurt.

In Braidwood Monday night, an emergency task force convened as the weather warnings were posted. When the twister cut a half mile north of the plant, once again, authorities could file away their 10-mile evacuation plan.

If the worst case scenario ever occurs, Exelon executives say they have additional safety measures in place after the Fukushima, Japan earthquake and nuclear meltdown.

"Fuel tanks are buried underground so they can't wash away like they did at Fukushima," Exelon COO Mike Pacilio said in an Exelon video. "Together were going to make out facilities safer and better prepared for the unimaginable."

The Braidwood plant would also hold up in an earthquake, according to Exelon officials. They say it's engineered to withstand between a 6.0 and 6.9 quake on the Richter scale, which they say is far greater than the risk data for this area.

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