Retro photos: An incredible journey Retro photos: An incredible journey

Retro photos: An incredible journey

Oconee Nuclear Station's first reactor vessel was hauled thousands of miles to its home in South Carolina


The arrival of the first nuclear reactor vessel at Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C., marked a complicated hauling job.

The 340-ton vessel ended its journey in February 1970, nearly two months after leaving the Babcock and Wilcox plant in Mount Vernon, Ind.

The empty vessel, where fuel rods and coolant are contained when a nuclear plant is operating, traveled by barge, special rail car and on the world’s largest truck (at that time). It traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Barge Canal, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Savannah River and 145 miles of road and rail bed.

The total distance: almost 2,000 miles.

The vessel was set in place on Feb. 8, 1970, 55 days and 5 1/2 hours after it left Indiana. Oconee’s two other reactor vessels would arrive in 1970 and 1971.

Oconee Nuclear Station is celebrating 50 years of reliable, carbon-free energy – Unit 1 began commercial operation on July 16, 1973.

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The reactor vessel glides through the Florida Barge Canal toward the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s about 40 feet tall, 8.5 inches thick and weighs about 340 tons. The inside diameter is about 14 feet and houses 177 fuel assemblies.


Once the vessel was docked at a barge landing in North Augusta, S.C., it was loaded onto a 240-wheel truck built in France for the 145-mile overland route to Oconee. In the foreground, an Atoms for Peace event takes place on Jan. 5, 1970.


The truck weighed about 175 tons without the reactor vessel. Powered by two 600-horsepower tractors, it was driven at a maximum 5 mph by a rotation of 10 drivers.


To cross Stevens Creek near North Augusta, the vessel was again loaded onto a barge to avoid an inadequate highway bridge. An island in the middle of the stream had to be cut in half to provide a straight shot to the other side.


After nearly 2,000 miles and two months in transit, the reactor vessel reaches Oconee Nuclear Station during construction, February 1970.


Despite its size, the vessel is dwarfed by Oconee’s unit 1 containment building, its permanent home. The World of Energy education center, which opened in 1969, is in the background.


Workers begin attaching this special lift and guide equipment to move the vessel inside the containment building. A special rail line was built to move the vessel.

Sources: Duke Energy archives, special edition of The Greenville News, published Aug. 22, 1975.

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