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Special Report
The Hoover Dam generates about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year, enough to power the lives of 1.3 million people. (Wikimedia Commons)

Where to Take a Tour of the World’s Power Plants

From Nevada’s Hoover Dam to a geothermal plant next to an Icelandic volcano, these six power stations open their doors to visitors

Cruachan Power Station, Scotland

Cruachan
(Wikimedia Commons)

The location of Cruachan Power Station has a more mystical past than most power plants. According to Scottish lore, an old hag named Cailleach Bheur roamed the 3,694-foot Ben Cruachan mountain, guarding a natural spring that welled up at its peak. Every day, she covered the spring with a slab of stone at sundown, removing it at the crack of dawn the following day. One fateful evening, the story goes, Cailleach Bheur fell asleep and forgot to cover the spring, which overflowed and created the present-day freshwater lake of Loch Awe.

The station, opened in 1965, lies just over a half a mile deep inside the mountain and has a capacity of 440 thousand kilowatts. The roughly 1,000-foot-long dam pumps water from Loch Awe into an overheard reservoir, which powers the turbines that produce its electricity. Tunnels snaking through the interior of the mountain collect rainwater, which generates 10 percent of the station’s electricity. The entire station can power up in an impressive two minutes, going from standby mode to peak production based on human demand on the power grid.

The station’s visitors' center is open from February to December, and features interactive displays that explain its operation. Guided tours can take visitors into the heart of the mountain, where tropical plants surround the walkways that lead to Cruachan’s four massive generators.

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