Hurricane Season and Atomic Power Reactors via Fairewinds Energy Education

By Maggie Gundersen & Ben Shulman-Reed

The Fairewinds Crew has been inundated with questions about Hurricane Harvey and the nuclear power plant in Texas. Here’s our latest info:

The South Texas Project (STP) is a two-unit atomic power reactor located near flooded Houston in Bay City, Texas right on the coast near where the Hurricane has hit. Incredibly, throughout Hurricane Harvey and its ensuing floods, STP has continued to operate. Pro-nukes are claiming two things: First, that the electricity from STP is desperately needed, which is not true. And, second that this ‘feat of operating during the Hurricane’ proves how rugged atomic power reactors are to withstand the gale force winds from the hurricane.

Fairewinds believes that STP should have shut down as the storm approached, and certainly still should be closed right now until the complete impact of the aftermath is understood.
With all of Fairewinds ongoing work studying the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami and the ongoing radiation releases from the Fukushima Dai-ichi atomic power reactors, we are very cognizant of the risks involved in the ongoing operation of nuclear power plants in the midst of a hurricane as malevolent as Harvey. See our recent peer-reviewed journal article here!

There is no doubt that the South Texas Project (STP) is being threatened by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Water levels at surrounding rivers continue to rise creating a risk that power lines into and out of STP may collapse in rain soaked soil. Rather than face a sudden shutdown from uncontrollable forces, why not have a planned, orderly temporary closure that also helps to keep the fuel cooler?

The final line of defense at a nuclear plant is its emergency plan. Anyone who has viewed the devastation in Texas can clearly see that evacuating from southern Texas is a lengthy process that is already under-financed with FEMA cuts and lack of critical emergency services. If STP began to have an operational or radioactive crisis, it would be impossible for any emergency responders or additional operators and engineers to arrive and assist with the calamity. Furthermore, how would an evacuation occur if it were needed? Remember “radiation knows no borders”, it is not going to stop at the site boundary, the county line, or stay within Texas, it will migrate wherever that weather front sends it.

And at this time of year in Texas, there is no need for the excess electricity that STP is currently providing. So why take any more risk by allowing STP to continue to operate when other sources of electricity are available?

The Fairewinds Crew cannot answer these questions. Only the people of Texas, already beleaguered by Hurricane Harvey, can answer those questions and demand action by their state government and regulators. There is only one reason why STP continues to operate during this hurricane and its aftermath: its owner STP Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) continues to make money by sending the electricity it generates to the grid.

Who owns STP Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC)? The national energy corporation NRG Energy owns 44 percent, and two local Texas utilities own the remainder: San Antonio municipal utility CPS Energy owns 40 percent, and Austin Energy owns 16 percent. As the rivers continue to rise and the threat of another hurricane hitting Texas is eminent, the possibility of a flooding debacle causing an immense radioactive plume to migrate with the weather through Texas and other states is ever present in our minds at Fairewinds Energy.

By the way, don’t count on the federal government Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to do anything to close STP. During Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, while houses floated across evacuation routes, the storm surge threatened its emergency cooling systems, and 80% of its emergency sirens had already failed. There was not a peep from the NRC. Luckily for the East Coast, the Oyster Creek atomic power plant had already shut down one week earlier for its routine refueling!

Texans are already facing real environmental issues, like leaking chemical plants causing toxic flood waters as well as the heat and dirty water creating a breeding ground for e-coli and typhoid. Hospitals are either closed or maxed out. We hope sound minds will prevail to close the South Texas Project (STP) while it is still possible, especially with rising rivers, ongoing flooding, and the possibility of Hurricane Irma hitting the same location.



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