South Texas Nuclear Company Opens Brand New Emergency Response Center

Japan’s nuclear crisis has renewed the debate over the safety of atomic energy programs around the world. Houston’s nearest facility is the South Texas Project, a nuclear energy plant in Matagorda County. As Wendy Siegle reports — STP has just opened a brand new joint information center and emergency response system.


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“This area here would have all of your emergency response directors in here from the local, county, state, and federal standpoint so that you would be watching what’s going on at the facility.”

STP spokesperson Buddy Eller is showing me around the new Joint Information Center and Emergency Operations Center in Bay City. Eller says the operations at the 8,000 square foot facility will be more efficient than the old setup. The two centers used to be located in different places.

“It was kind of a fragmented type of approach from an emergency response standpoint. This gives us a very cohesive and coordinated facility where we can very quickly and in a timely manner get information out to the public.”

It’s here where representatives from local, state, and federal agencies would come together to handle emergency situations, such as a hurricane or a crisis at STP’s nuclear plant 20 miles away. Under federal law nuclear facilities must have a Joint Information Center as part of their overall emergency response program, where media would gather and information would get disseminated to people in the surrounding areas. The Emergency Operations Center is in the back of the building.

“It really is kind of where the guts of the emergency preparedness response goes on. It’s really where you are watching what’s going on with any type of event, where you are coordinated in all levels of your response… all in one area. And kind of coordinate your response to the event.”

Eller says there are a number of design differences between STP’s nuclear facility and Japan’s troubled Fukushima plant. Fukushima had two back-up power systems to keep the reactors cool, both of which failed. STP has three–more than any other commercial nuclear facility in the country. Eller says the STP plant can handle a storm surge up to 41 feet high. The wall of water that hit Japan’s plant was about 33 feet high. Eller adds that the reactors here aren’t in an active earthquake zone.

But as safe as STP says its nuclear facility is, Japan’s nuclear crisis has raised a lot of questions about whether it would smart to expand America’s nuclear program. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not allowed a single new reactor to be built since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979.

“We believe that our STP is one of the best sites in the country for expansion. But we also realize that given the events in Japan we’re going to see all new built projects across the country are going to be impacted from a scheduling standpoint.”

STP is seeking permits to build two more reactors, but plans could be stalled depending on the fallout from the disaster in Japan.

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