Happy in Their Haven Beside the Nuclear Plant

Ike Scovitch of Laurel and Tom Acre of Ellicot City fish in Lake Anna's warm section, a good place for bass. The North Anna nuclear plant is in the background. (Photo: Gerald Martineau/Post)
SOURCE: | By Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso - The Washington Post - October 01, 2007
By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

MINERAL, Va. -- As fisherman Roger A. Hanna Sr. sped across Lake Anna one morning this month, the air temperature hovered barely above freezing. But his digital water gauge registered a balmy 72 degrees.

On the Louisa County shoreline, the North Anna nuclear power plant draws on the man-made lake for coolant to condense steam inside the plant. The water, heated during the cycle, discharges into three lagoons and then returns to the lake, creating a hot springs of sorts here in central Virginia.

The result is a 13,000-acre reservoir with two parts: a cold one fed from the west by the North Anna River and a smaller, hot one near two reactors Dominion Generation uses to produce electricity via uranium fission. For those in the know, the hot part offers an extended resort season. Even as leaves were changing and homeowners were cutting firewood for the winter on a chilly Saturday, boaters, swimmers, jet skiers and water boarders in wetsuits took to the lake.

"Stick your hand in the water," Hanna said as his speedboat passed over schools of fish. Largemouth bass reproduce in larger numbers in the hot part, an attraction to year-round fishermen. Their habitat felt like bath water to the touch.

It is common to find boaters on the water through November. Some celebrate at Christmastime on the lake.

Authorities and locals stress that the lake, which straddles the Spotsylvania-Louisa county border, is perfectly safe.

"It's so regulated by everyone and anybody," said Irene Luck, who lives near the power plant and is a reporter for the Central Virginian, a weekly newspaper.

Of the 65 nuclear power plants in the United States, 42 use water from a river, lake or ocean to help cool energy production systems, said Scott Burnell, spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"The water never comes in contact with the reactor," Burnell said. "There's a lot of separation between the reactor and the lake water. I'm not aware of any incidents or concerns of radioactive contamination at Lake Anna."

The only nuclear power facility in Maryland is the Calvert Cliffs plant in Calvert County, which draws on the Chesapeake Bay, according to the NRC. The other nuclear plant in Virginia, Dominion's Surry power station, draws on the James River near Hampton Roads.

Toni Yates, a real estate agent in the Lake Anna area, said the nuclear plant's proximity has not hurt sales of vacation homes or full-time residences. The plant's two low-profile domes are tucked away from view of lakefront houses and are visible mainly from the water.

Yates said prices for houses on shallow water and with limited lake views start at about $450,000. Houses on prime lakefront property can fetch $600,000 to $800,000. Luxury homes cost more.

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