Post-9/11 concerns brought precast concrete into the national security spotlight.
By Daina Manning
America grew more security conscious in the aftermath of 9/11, as cities from East to West coasts braced against potential terrorist threats.
The danger to nuclear plants was particularly frightening, and following 9/11, nuclear facilities needed to move quickly to increase security.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (called for) all plants in the United States to upgrade their security,” says John Bachofer, manager in the purchasing department for Southern California Edison (SCE) in San Onofre, Calif. “There was a limited amount of time from when the order was put out to the time when all nuclear plants were required to be in compliance.” Even with an extension, which most plants in the United States required, shoring up for high-alert status was a massive undertaking.
At SCE’s San Onofre facility near San Clemente, Calif., the job was complicated by the plant’s proximity to the ocean and the regulations of the California Coastal Commission.
Additionally, the San Clemente community, which already had concerns about the facility due to seismic faults beneath the plant, was worried about potential security problems such as a plant employees’ parking lot, which could be accessed by visitors to nearby San Onofre State Beach.
SCE took action
In addition to such precautions as extensive background checks for employees, intruder-alert systems, metal and explosives detectors, and increased Coast Guard patrols of the five-mile exclusion zone outside the San Onofre plant, the plant needed additional barriers to counteract the possibility of truck bomb, a known terrorist device.
An immense project to construct effective barriers that doubled as attractive planters was conceived and implemented at breakneck speed, thanks to the versatility, adaptability and strength of precast concrete, the exclusive choice for the job.
The biggest challenge was the time frame, notes Warren Taylor, president of Pro-Cast Products Inc., Highland, Calif.
“The job bid in two weeks, and we had eight to 12 weeks to complete the whole (project). That included forming, casting and delivering,” he says. “We literally had to have forms up and running in three weeks from the time the job bid, and the form work was quite extensive.”
Because of the short timeline, Bachofer says that the facility outsourced the job instead of relying on its own engineering and facilities staff. Pro-Cast Products won the competitive bid due to the company’s expertise in handling substantial construction projects that included highway barriers, tanks and retaining walls.
“Of course we’re concerned with price because it’s the rate-payers’ money we’re spending,” Bachofer says. “But we also had to ensure we were dealing with someone who had the capacity to build the quantity we were asking for – and who was relatively local so we didn’t incur great shipping costs.”
The job included 150 massive planters designed to prevent vehicular intrusion by absorbing the impact of a large vehicle. Taylor says the project demanded precast concrete from the start because of the logistics involved. The cast-in-place process for such bulky and sturdy forms would have been much more complex than precasting in an already-operating facility.
As for the decorative part of the process, the planters feature an integral color, which coordinates nicely with the recreational areas surrounding the facility.
“The California Coastal Commission has requirements that in the coastal zone, which we’re in, non-obtrusive colors blend in with the naturally occurring background in the area,” says Ray Golden, communications manager for SCE in San Onofre. The chosen color, San Diego Buff, “is very close to the color of the indigenous sand, the San Mateo sand.”
Transporting the finished pieces to San Onofre was another difficult part of the project, Taylor recalls.
The planters weighed about 55,000 pounds each, so Pro-Cast Products had to truck them one at a time 80 miles from its facility to the nuclear plant.
“It took a little bit of work,” Taylor says. “We would do three to four pieces a day.”
Still, the procurement process came off “without a hitch,” Bachofer says. “The people we chose were wonderful, and delivery was not a problem. I think the hardest part for us was the fact that we were closing off one of our gates that goes into the power plant.”
Bachofer explains that the lines of planters from both ends joined in the middle at the gate, which was to be closed off, so at one spot they had to fabricate a piece of one planter in place to make it all join up. “But we have good masonry people here, so we were able to pull that off,” he says. He can’t talk about the actual construction of them for security reasons, “but precast was selected because of the way it can be made very strong with the mix of the concrete, which we specified.”
Presently, purple and orange flowers grace the planters, and are tended by an in-house facilities management staff. “They handle all the infrastructure of the property,” Bachofer says.
And the community reaction?
“I don’t think they can see (the barrier), although we’re in close proximity to a popular surfing beach to the north and a state campground to the south,” Golden says. “The way the walls are configured, it’s in a large parking lot that’s private property. But in general, we’ve always tried to be as unobtrusive as we can, to blend in with the natural environment.”
And with its chameleon-like ability to change form and texture, precast concrete was the most logical choice.
Project Name: San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – Parking Lot No. 4
Owner/Conctractor/Engineer: Southern California Edison, San Onofre, Calif.
Precast Manufacturer: Procast Products Inc., Highland, Calif. *
* Procast Products is a certified plant under NPCA’s Quality Assurance/Plant Certification program.