My view of cooling towers

13 December 2011

I cannot say that I can extend that reasoning to nuclear power stations themselves. The idea of nuclear fission is elegant, but when executed in the real world becomes bulky, complex and bristling with pipes. (One exception is old–fashioned spherical containments, as at Dresden 1, whose huge curving sweep is quite unlike any other building I have been in; amazing). Outside and in, modern reactor buildings prioritise function over form, to put it politely.

But on a site visit to Vogtle 1&2 (and the 3&4 construction site), I saw a beautiful thing. I want to tell you about it, but feel I should warn you that what I have to say is utterly impractical, and may seem out of place in an engineering magazine.

The Vogtle plant in Georgia is located next to the Savannah river, which runs obscured by trees in a decline to one side. The river lay green and placid when I saw it in October. But its water is used by the plant in a transcendent way.

Vogtle of course is dominated by two cooling towers, like many nuclear and conventional powered sites. And at the risk of stating the obvious, weren’t they a magnificent sight.

First, they are enormous. I could tell you that they are 548 ft (167m) high, but numbers do not convey the vista from the visitors’ centre green, which, above their grade, filled my entire vision. From that perspective, they overlapped each other slightly, which flattered their gentle curves. Their bulging shape—called hyperboloid, and which helps them reach such heights unsupported—sets up an interesting contrast with the heavy reinforced concrete that I know that they are made from.

But the most amazing thing was the vapour billowing out of the top of them. Perhaps because the tower’s cone-shaped opening is so wide, or perhaps because their natural-draught design draws air without any powered circulation, the vapour was totally unlike a plume pumped out of an exhaust tower of some factory. This was just like the loose clouds one sometimes sees thrown off of a thunderstorm; wads of torn-off cotton wool, like low clouds skimming over a mountain ridge. The day I visited was clear and bright; a light breeze riffled the vapour into constantly-moving eddies and whirls as it rose high into the air. The vapour cloud cast shadows that dappled the curved side of the other tower.

Before we even reached the plant, we could see vapour clouds fluttering above the trees edging the site, like a giant happy flag. It said, loud and clear, we have exited our outage and are under power. Full steam ahead.

I have taken a video of it, and posted it on our new video site ( But the video is did not capture the magic and the majesty of the sight; it was like the difference between a tiger in the zoo and a tiger in the wild. My only advice is to take the time to watch one—actually sit down—and experience it yourself.

Author Info:

Will Dalrymple, editor

Related Articles
Doosan buys Skoda Power
Nexans to supply cables to Mochovce

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.