America grew more security conscious after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, as cities across the nation braced against potential threats. The danger to nuclear plants was particularly frightening, and following Sept. 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, the job was complicated because the plant was near the Pacific Ocean, so it had to adhere to California Coastal Commission regulations.

The San Clemente community, which already had concerns about the facility due to seismic faults beneath the plant, also 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 takes 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 5-mile exclusion zone outside the San Onofre plant, the plant needed additional barriers to counteract the possibility of a 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.

Time was critical, notes Warren Taylor, president of Pro-Cast Products Inc., of 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 time frame, Bachofer says the facility outsourced the job instead of relying on its own engineering and facilities staffs. Pro-Cast Products won the bid because of its expertise in handling substantial construction projects that included highway barriers, tanks, and retaining walls.

“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 wouldn't incur great shipping costs.”

The job included 150 massive planters designed to prevent 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 at a plant.