The QueQue: Call for an end to nuclear power in San Antonio, Reactor safety and concerned scientists, CPS Energy plans and public opinion
Published: March 14, 2012
As some of the last reactors to go online in the U.S., STP also enjoys one of the stronger safety records in the fleet, said Buddy Eller, spokesperson for the STP Nuclear Operating Company. And if Fukushima Daiichi's disaster was brought on by the loss of connection to the electrical grid from earthquake damage and backup generators swamped by the resulting tsunami — a double-whammy above and beyond what the reactors were built to sustain — Eller expressed confidence in STP's three emergency safety systems that include "locomotive-sized" diesel generators in "flood-proof" concrete bunkers. Annual Assessment letters from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 2011 dated March 5, 2012, also give Texas nukes, the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak in North Texas, clean bills of health. "The NRC determined that overall, South Texas Project Electric Generating Station Units 1 and 2 operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives."
But the Union of Concerned Scientists blasted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a report last week for failing to enact key recommendations from its own post-Fukushima assessment. "Many of its proposals to safeguard against such a calamity here are good in principle," the report states, "but their effectiveness will depend on how well they are implemented, and how quickly." High on their complaint is the NRC's unfulfilled charge to clarify "patchwork" regulations for severe accidents (those exceeding the abilities of the plants to withstand, see Fukushima). In fact, such action, while highest on the NRC's list of priorities, will be some of the last actions to be implemented, the UCS report states.
CPS Energy plans and public opinion
Plans to double the 1,080-megawatt nuclear-power complex in Matagorda County responsible for a full third of greater San Antonio's power fell through after ballooning expenses in 2009 gave way to internal bickering and lawsuits between partners CPS, NRG Energy, and Toshiba in 2010, but members of Energía Mía want the city to fully divest itself from what they consider an "unforgiving" power source. It's a non-starter at CPS, where an emailed response to questions on the subject reads simply: "CPS Energy has not evaluated elimination of nuclear from its energy portfolio and does not have any plans to do so." Whether STP 1 and 2 will be closed in 2028 or 2048, increased maintenance and repair will be the name of the game for years to come. Unit 2, for instance, has been offline for several months now as crews work to replace a rotor in the main generator, Eller said. Yet in order to fulfill its goal of 20 percent renewables by 2020 and a full 65 percent of its energy supply from "low-carbon" sources, CPS is pursuing non-nuclear and non-coal options vigorously. "Mothballing Deely in 2018 and acquiring a gas plant to replace Deely's 870 MW along with wind, solar and clean coal is helping us get there," spokesperson Christine Patmon said. CPS announced this week that it is purchasing an 800-megawatt combined-cycle gas plant in Seguin. In January, a deal for 400 solar megawatts from OCI Solar was announced. How well the "bridge fuel" play on natural gas works out will hinge a lot on the environmental costs of shale gas development and the durability of formations like the Eagle Ford in South Texas (see "Inflated figures").
Meanwhile, a recent survey by ORC International performed Last month for the Civil Society Institute found that 57 percent of Americans (extrapolated from a survey of 1,032) are less supportive of nuclear power post-Fukushima. "This survey is another piece of bad news for new nuclear construction in the U.S.," said Peter Bradford, a former NRC commissioner and current adjunct law professor on nuclear power and public policy at Vermont Law School, said in a prepared release. "The nuclear industry has spent millions on polls telling the public how much the public longs for nuclear power. Such polls never ask the real world questions linking new reactors to rate increases or to accident risk. Fukushima has made the links to risk much clearer in the public's mind." •