Texas Nuke Plant Stays Online Amid Harvey. Give Credit To Resilient Operators, Robust Design And A Plan
Despite the forces of nature and in spite of the opportunistic efforts of professional opponents, a large nuclear power station located in the middle of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation continues to steadily produce 100% of its rated power output.
The online version of the Austin Statesman includes an all caps headline on an article dated August 25 NUKE PLANT COULD CLOSE: South Texas Project braces for strengthening Hurricane Harvey.
Antinuclear campaigners like Beyond Nuclear,Sustainable Energy & Economic Development coalition (SEED), and the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy have attempted to stoke fear and devalue nuclear energy by claiming that the South Texas Project (STP), a 2700 MW nuclear station in Matagorda County, Texas, should shutdown as a “prudent” decision.
Some of the public communications pieces from the antinuclear activists have invoked “Fukushima” without recognizing the substantial differences in fundamental plant design, modernization programs and emergency preparedness. They also overlook the fact that lessons have been learned with mitigations implemented in the six years since that event took place.
News of Hurricane Harvey’s devastating pounding of South Texas has been rightly dominating the news for several days. There are countless human tragedies along with an immeasurable number of human heroes who are doing everything they can to reduce suffering and save lives. The 250 people who make up the storm crew at STP deserve credit for their efforts to keep power flowing reliably, providing a vital tool that alleviates or prevents human harm.
Buddy Eller, an STP spokesman, described the pride with which those skilled workers are performing the actions needed to continue delivering their valuable product. He also provided some insights about the preparatory work that enabled success and about the resilient nature of the plant’s basic design and continuous maintenance program.
STP, like all other nuclear plants and virtually all other facilities in our energy supply system, has an emergency plan that includes actions to take when storms approach. It includes keeping a close watch on the weather, carefully inspecting the site to ensure that all equipment is as secure and protected as possible, checking fuel levels for emergency generators, and ensuring that a staffing plan is in place to cover all of the required tasks without external assistance for as long as necessary.
The plant’s emergency facility includes beds so that workers can rest between shifts without any need to venture out onto flooded or debris strewn roads.
The staff has access to a stockpile of food and other necessary items that are either continuously stored on site or stockpiled when a storm warning is delivered.
The plant is well stocked with commodities used for water treatment and other maintenance.
Many power stations make similar provisions to continue operating during storms, but nuclear plants have a “secret” weapon that is especially useful when area infrastructures are demolished during natural disasters.
STP is only part way through its normal 18 month refueling cycle. It will not need any new fuel to be loaded into the reactors, which also serve as the fuel tanks, until March 2018. It has no outside coal piles soaking up rainwater, no need to fret about damage to rail delivery systems, no worries about pipeline shut-offs in the face of flooding, and no need to wait for the sun to begin shining again.
The plant is designed to be able to withstand harsh weather conditions, including severe flooding. It has its limits, and nuclear plant owners and operators take great care to remain within those limits. They take preplanned preventive actions when necessary. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission provides resident inspectors who provide continuous oversight. The STP inspectors have reported that the plant is being properly operated.
“The South Texas Project reactors have been operating safely throughout Harvey and continue to do so,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in an email.
Proud Team Of Operators
Many of the members of the STP storm team did what critical employees, military personnel, and first responders always have to do in the face of natural disasters; they had to leave their families to deal with the storm and potential evacuations while they continued to perform their vital jobs.