Each spring, nearly 1,000 highly specialized technicians from around the US descend on the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station near Phoenix, Arizona, to refuel one of the plant’s three nuclear reactors. As America’s largest power plant—nuclear or otherwise—Palo Verde provides around-the-clock power to 4 million people in the Southwest. Even under normal circumstances, refueling one of its reactors is a laborious, month-long process. But now that the US is in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the plant operators have had to adapt their refueling plans.
Palo Verde is expected to begin refueling one of its reactors in early April—a spokesperson for Arizona Public Service, the utility that operates the plant, declined to give an exact start date—but the preparations began months in advance. The uranium fuel started arriving at the plant last autumn, delivered in the cargo bay of an unmarked semi truck. The fuel arrives ready for the reactor as 1,000-pound rectangular bundles of uranium rods that are 12 feet tall and about 6 inches on each side.