Nuclear Power May Grow in Texas

Nuclear power is making a comeback. Until last year there had been no plans to build a new nuclear power plant in the United States since 1979. In September the South Texas Project applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build two new reactors at the plant south of Bay City. Rod Rice reports.

I was at the plant for a rare tour inside a nuclear reactor. Unit-one is shut down for regular refueling and maintenance. Looking up you see the underside of the huge dome and looking down the small pool of water that surrounds the fuel rods. The normally empty reactor was a buzz with people all wearing protective yellow suits that are discarded before they leave the reactor. Then it’s through a series of machines designed to detect the tiniest amount of radiation.

Ten minutes inside the reactor actually can take well over an hour just to pass through all the security..and the health and safety briefings.

The planned new additions, units three and four, are a long way from producing power. David Knox is with Houston based NRG Energy, which is one of the co-owners of the nuke plant.

“Our goal with the time line is that around 2009 we will be given enough of a license that we can start digging, but around 2010, 2011, we anticipate that we will have the license in hand and we’ll start building the units. Around 2015, 2016 we’ll have the units come on line.”

Knox says the reason nuclear power is getting a second look is because of global warming.

“Nuclear power is a tremendous way to generate an enormous amount of power without generating greenhouse gasses or any emissions.”

This new environment for nuclear power has a number of companies looking to expand.
Mark McBurnett is with STP Nuclear Operating Company, the non-profit that runs the power plant for the three co-owners. He believes STP may have the best chance of actually building two new reactors because of the type of reactor it want to build; an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor.

“The advantage to it over the other advanced designs is that it actually has been built. There are four of them under operation in Japan and more under construction, so there’s operation history and construction history that gives us the confidence to know that we can build it on schedule and on budget.”

Because there’s been little growth over three decades the work force has been relatively stagnant and therefore getting older. McBurnett says STP will need 1,200 to 1,400 new employees over the coming years and it is making the effort to produce them.

“Working with the local community colleges, working with the state with Texas A&M and other local industries in a number of different efforts to build those curricula in the system to develop young people to come into the business.”

The South Texas Project has some notable success in nuclear power generation. It has produced more power than any other two unit plant in the country for three years and unit one is the world’s top nuclear power generator.