Posts Tagged ‘South Texas Nuclear Generating Station’

Investors dumped Japanese shares Monday, sending the Nikkei down 6.2% amid concerns about a nuclear emergency in the country following Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, with stocks of exporters and plant operators hardest hit.

Analysts say stocks were being largely driven by the quake-related news flow; while news of the devastating tsunami effects in northeastern Japan waned.  Fears spread amid the scramble to contain meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as investor attention remained riveted on the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors at the facility, which were damaged by the effects of the quake and tsunami. Selling accelerated in the afternoon following a new explosion at the No. 3 reactor, similar to the one that hit the No. 1 reactor on Saturday.

Tepco’s shares went largely untraded, closing down 24 percent. Goldman Sachs also lowered its rating on the stock to Neutral from Buy and cut its target price 13 percent.

Between Tepco and Tohoku Electric Power, some 15 nuclear power units are in questionable status.

Hitachi and Toshiba, which make nuclear power technology, both sank 16 percent.

Why is the economic news of these Japanese companies of interest to Texas?

Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA), the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba Corporation, are the major financial partners in the two new nuclear units at the South Texas Project (STP).  Last year they announced they had reached an agreement with Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), that owns the Fukushima Daiichi, to also partner in the STP expansion.

NINA was also counting on the Japanese government to provide loan guarantees to the project.  So, of the major financial investments in this Texas nuclear expansion, three are Japanese.  One can easily predict that both the Japanese government and Japan’s nuclear industry’s economic future are going to be tied up for the foreseeable future.  Given this, it would be mind-boggling if the U.S. Department of Energy approved a loan guarantee for STP’s expansion.

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Citizens spoke at Austin City Hall to let city leaders know that purchasing more nuclear power is unacceptable.  NRG, the energy company that is the major owner of South Texas (Nuclear) Project,  is scrambling for investors in its proposed expansion of the plant, especially since a messy court battle with partner CPS Energy last year that ended with San Antonio reducing their 50% share down to just over 7%.  Reactor development had been costing San Antonio $30 million a month. After spending $370 million, CPS Energy sued NRG for $32 billion, accused NRG of fraud and conspiracy and spent $6.1 million on litigation to determine how get out of the partnership

NRG now wants Austin to buy into nuclear power through a power purchase agreement instead of direct investment.  (Click here to read our earlier post on the letter sent by NRG to Austin Energy.)  “Considering this messy history and the fact that reactor costs have tripled, why should Austin Energy even be talking about a nuclear deal with NRG?” asked Karen Hadden, Director of the SEED Coalition.  Watch the press conference video to see how other concerned citizens are responding to this new NRG tact.

[vimeo 20811734]

Solar Si, Nuclear No! Press Conference
Speakers, in order of appearance:
Karen Hadden, SEED Coalition
Frank Cooksey, Former Mayor of Austin
Susan Dancer, South Texas Association for Responsible Energy
Susana Almanza, PODER
Roy Waley, Vice Chair, Austin Regional Group of the Sierra Club”

The power purchase agreement would raise electric bills 20% or more and would cost $13 – $20 billion over the life of the reactors. These billions of dollars could do so much more if used for safe, clean renewable energy and efficiency projects..

Frank Cooksey, who was the Mayor of Austin from 1985-1988 when Austin was hemoraging money during the construction of the first two units at STP as cost overruns and construction delays caused the existing reactors to balloon to six times the original budget estimate and come online eight years late, said “I was serving during the time when those costs were placed into our electric utility rate base, resulting in large increases in the utility bills of our citizens. The angriest and most difficult public hearing that I ever presided over was the one that addressed the increases in electric rates generated by the high costs of construction of the STNP (South Texas Nuclear Project).”

Austin Energy has been a leader on energy efficiency and in developing solar projects, and other clean energy efforts that benefit our local economy.  The recently approved Austin Generation Plan, developed by a citizen task force with input from Austin Energy and approved by the City Council, builds on that legacy and did not include a power purchase agreement  with a nuclear project that Austin already decided was too risky to buy into as a partner.

Nuclear reactors would consume vast quantities of Colorado River water at a time when regional drought is expected to increase. No other form of power comes with such high security and terrorism risks and creating more radioactive waste adds to a problem that has not been solved.

Austin should steer clear of more nuclear power and pursue a safe and clean energy path.

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So now San Antonio is sitting back watching with a knowing eye as NRG/Toshiba (formally know together as NINA) approaches the City of Austin with the hope that Austin hasn’t been paying attention to what they put San Antonio through just a year ago.

Greg Harman of the San Antonio Current provides an update to his readers:

Though the nuclear discussion in city circles has cooled dramatically since CPS Energy extracted itself from a 50-percent share in the proposed doubling of the South Texas Project nuclear complex down to a mere 7 percent, the project’s key boosters have continued scrambling to make the project as attractive as possible to the U.S. Department of Energy and — more recently — the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. To pretty-up the massively expensive project (in the course of the local debate, it shot from around $8 billion to $18 billion), NRG and Toshiba have rounded back on Austin, hoping to win a change of heart from a newer mayor and council. Years back, the city, a 16-percent partner in STP’s Units 1 and 2, voted not to partner on the expansion, citing concerns for both likely cost overruns (how prescient) and the troubling question of how to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste that is left behind.

Click here to read the whole blog post.

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On January 13th, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced the opportunity to request a hearing on an application to renew the operating licenses for the South Texas Project (STP) Units 1 and 2 which will expire on Aug. 20, 2027, and Dec. 15, 2028, respectively.

South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company, submitted the renewal application to the NRC on Oct. 25, 2010. When the agency receives a license renewal application and it is docketed three actions are triggered:

  • technical safety reviews
  • environmental reviews
  • an announcement of an opportunity for a hearing

The deadline for requesting a hearing is 60 days following the publication of a notice in the Federal Register.   This means, by March 14, petitions should be filed by anyone whose interest may be affected by the license renewal and who wishes to participate as a party in the proceeding. (more…)

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Last week, Nuclear Innovation North America (NINA) released a “poll” that they claim shows strong support both across Texas and in Austin for building more nuclear power plants in the state, but the dirty secret of polling in the corporate world is that corporate clients don’t conduct polls to find out public opinion: they conduct polling to buy results, which they can then trot in front of the media and elected officials to prove how popular they are.

Although the polls were done by taking random samples of registered voters (1,004 in the statewide survey and 700 in the Austin market), the questions were worded in such a way to elicit a positive response.  The Littlefield Consulting is one such poll, and its results were presented in a misleading fashion to the public.  It does not accurately reflect the voters of Austin’s true feelings on nuclear power which is, at best, mixed.

We’d like to run down the problems that we see with this poll below.
Major problem 1:
The poll says that 64% of Austin voters think nuclear power should play in important role in the city’s future.  But question 1 of the actual poll tells a very different story:

In general, do you favor or oppose nuclear power plants to generate electricity for Austin Energy?
Strongly Favor:  18.5%  / Somewhat Favor: 28.5%  / Somewhat Oppose:  16.2%  / Strongly Oppose: 19.9%  / Don’t Know 17%

Favor:  only 47% with Oppose / Don’t know: 53%

Support is tepid at best, with not even a majority of voters in favor of nuclear energy, much less nuclear expansion.  There are more voters who strongly oppose nuclear than strongly support it, meaning it is a bad issue at the ballot box.

By the end of the poll, after hearing all of the positive messages, support only increased to 64%.  Support is not only tepid, but even after hearing only one side of the argument, voters are not overwhelmingly convinced.

Major problem 2:
This poll makes false comparisons between energy choices.

Would you favor or oppose Austin Energy purchasing nuclear power if AE signed a contract to purchase the power at a rate competitive with coal and natural gas that is set and will not rise for 40 years?
Favor: 65%  /  Oppose: 23%  / Don’t Know: 12%

Given current economics, this is not possible. Cost estimates for new nuclear from STP 3&4 are generally 7.5 – 8.5 cents per kwh, while coal, gas, and renewables are all under 5 cents.

Major problem 3:
This poll presents inaccurate information to those people being polled and then asks them if that makes them more favorable to nuclear energy.
The poll touts STP’s stable price, reliable electricity, and environmental benefits without giving the true history of cost overruns, bailouts, enormous carbon footprint of construction or the mining and milling of uranium and storage of radioactive waste.  It also falsely connects nuclear power to energy independence, although nuclear power will not affect oil consumption in Austin at all.

Please tell me if each statement more likely or less likely to support Austin Energy purchasing more nuclear energy from the South Texas Nuclear Project:
Nuclear power plants are cleaner for the environment than plants fueled by coal or natural gas because they don’t produce emissions.    More: 75%   / Less: 25%
More nuclear energy could lock in stable prices and affordable prices for AE customers- especially for lower income customers.    More: 75%   / Less: 25%
The US needs to become more energy independent and not rely on energy from politically unstable parts of the world.   More: 85%   / Less: 15%

None of these answers actually show Austin’s support for nuclear power, only that positive messaging makes them more likely to support it, which is exactly what the people paying for the poll wanted.

Major problem 3:
The poll glosses over major opposition to the plant due to water usage.  Furthermore, no other negative messages are presented to those being polled, meaning they are given a one-sided description of nuclear power.

For example, support evaporates (no pun intended) for STP expansion or Austin buying power from nuclear expansion at the slightest mention of the water cost.

Would you favor or oppose the building of these new units if the daily operation of these new units increased the amount of water that the STNP draws from the Colorado River?Strongly favor:  9.8%  / Somewhat favor: 19.9%  / Somewhat oppose:  26.1%  / Strongly oppose:       26.2%  / Don’t Know: 18.1%

Total Favor: 30%  / Total Oppose: 52%
Total Oppose /Don’t Know:  70%

When faced with the facts on the cost overruns, the dangers of radioactive waste, the performance and safety record at STP and nuclear power nationwide, allegations of fraud when dealing with CPS and San Antonio, you will see drastically different results.

This does not even begin to discuss issues like whether Austin needs more baseload power (we don’t— we need more peak power, which can more reliably and cheaply be provided by efficiency, renewables, and natural gas peakers)

Bottom line:  STP expansion and further power purchase agreements with STP are, in a word, radioactive.  Support is soft, at best, and based on easily debunked and misleading claims. Smart elected officials will stay away from this issue and reaffirm the City Council’s previous decisions to not buy into the nuke.

Too see a breakdown of both polls’ questions and answers, click here.


UPDATE AND EDITOR’S NOTE: We received a comment on this post that we found to be helpful and removed a section our commenter, Bliz, found to be a “Karl Rove-ish” attack.   The lessons we learn are the following: YES, we read your comments.  And give them the attention they deserve.  Second, when we make a mistake we try to fess up to it.  Mea culpa, as it was I who wrote the majority of this, not Carol.  And third, while we generally don’t like to flush things down the old memory hole, there are times when it is worthwhile to delete something.  This is one of those times. But we confess that we are deleting in and not trying to cover up for the fact that it never happened.  So thanks, and good night and have a pleasant tomorrow. ~~Andy Wilson, TexasVox editor.

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Seal of the United States Atomic Energy Commis...

Image via Wikipedia

 The Shaw Group is increasing its bet on nuclear power, announcing a role in the proposed 2,700-megawatt South Texas project making it the largest nuclear construction project in Shaw’s history.

Toshiba, the Japanese company, and NRG Energy Inc. jointly own Nuclear Innovation North America, which is developing the South Texas plant.

The Shaw Power Group will get the initial engineering, procurement and construction contract for the two-reactor expansion proposed at South Texas. But Shaw will be more than the contractor. It will be a partner with Toshiba in the project.

As part of its new agreement with Toshiba, Shaw has agreed to invest up to $250 million in nuclear projects. Of that, $100 million will initially be a loan guarantee for NINA for South Texas. If the project wins its combined operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that loan guarantee will be converted into an equity investment in the project.

The Shaw Power Group strategy is not without risks. There have been questions in recent months about whether the “nuclear renaissance” in the United States will actually occur. And there have been specific questions about the South Texas project, much of them through the SEED Coalition and Public Citizen interventions in the licensing process.

South Texas still on the hunt for partners

South Texas would be a merchant energy plant and they believe they are in line for federal loan guarantees. But another merchant plant, Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, ran into trouble when Constellation Energy pulled out. Constellation said the loan-guarantee conditions were too onerous and made the project financially untenable.

Every proposed nuclear expansion has come with the caveat that these projects are too expensive (and risky) to move forward without the federal loan guarantees.  Yet when the federal government tries to mitigate its own risk, the industry has protested.   

NINA has been looking for partners for the South Texas project since San Antonio’s municipal power company, CPS Energy, went from being a 50% partner to taking just a 7.6 percent ownership in the project.

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A couple of weeks ago an outage at South Texas (Nuclear) Project (STP) occurred when unit 2 automatically shutdown due to an “equipment failure”.  This outage triggered a reliability deployment of LaaRs (Load Acting as a Resource) event at ERCOT.  This shifting of load to cover an unexpected event can be quite expensive and the retail electric providers who purchase their electricity from STP will bear the brunt of that cost.

South Texas Nuclear Plant entrance from NRC.gov

One of these two reactors isn't working. And they call renewable energy unreliable!

South Texas Project has since announced it will extend its Unit 2 outage to repair a seal-housing gasket on a reactor coolant pump, which moves water through the steam generator.   The company has decided that, while the gasket’s condition is within operating criteria, STP will make the needed repairs, while they also continue to run unit 1.

A repair schedule is being finalized and restoration of the unit is projected to be completed sometime in November, but we here wonder if it won’t be even into December before it is repaired.

In the meantime, Austin Energy, which gets 27% of its energy from STP, and San Antonio’s CPS, which gets 38% of its energy from STP will be purchasing energy from other sources to make up for the loss from the STP outage.  Let’s hope we don’t have a major cold front come in before STP unit 2 is back online, or these energy companies could be looking at a lowered earnings projection for their final quarter.

This continues a banner few weeks for the nuke industry, who had to shut down Vermont Yankee because of a radioactive water leak and an unexplained transformer explosion at Indian Point 2, a reactor just 24 miles north of New York City, a known secondary target of terrorists on 9/11.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The 22 year old South Texas Project (STP) Units 1 and 2 are up for renewal and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced today that an application for a 20-year renewal of the operating licenses is available for public review.

The plant’s current operating licenses for Units 1 and 2 will expire on Aug. 20, 2027, and Dec. 15, 2028, respectively.  A 20 year license extension would have the two units in production well past their initial life expectancy, and the onsite spent fuel rod storage, well – that’s a whole other can of worms.

South Texas Project Units 1 and 2 are both pressurized-water nuclear reactors, located 12 miles southwest of Bay City, Texas.  When they were built, these plants were projected to have a 30 to 40 year life expectancy and STP says it has enough underwater storage capacity on site to safely store spent fuel for the licensed life of the plant.  Since it is up for a 20 year renewal, let’s hope that that means they have enough spent fuel storage capacity for at least that long.  They haven’t been very forthcoming about what their hoped for expansion would mean for their spent fuel storage capacity, continuing to hold forth the promise of a long-term storage solution (Yucca Mountain being the most frequently touted option). But with the development of Yucca Mountain in limbo, and the NRC extending the period for onsite storage past the production life of a plant, it seems likely that an off site long term storage solution is unlikely anytime soon.

The licensee, STP Nuclear Operating Co., submitted the renewal application Oct. 26. The application is available on the NRC website at this address: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/renewal/applications/south-texas-project.html. The NRC staff is currently conducting an initial review of the application to determine whether it contains enough information for the required formal review. If the application has sufficient information, the NRC will formally “docket,” or file, the application and will announce an opportunity to request a public hearing.

For further information, contact Carmen Fells or Tam Tran at the Division of License Renewal, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mail Stop O11-F1, Washington, D.C. 20555; telephone (301) 415-6337 for Carmen Fells and telephone (301) 415-3617 for Tam Tran.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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South Texas Project

Human error appears to have caused a partial shutdown last Friday at the South Texas Project, one of the state’s two nuclear plants.

Last week, prices spiked in the wholesale electricity market.  On Monday the 16th,  wholesale electricity, which had been selling for less than $30 per megawatt-hour spiked to more than $2,000.  That’s an increase of more than 7,000 percent. Prices also spiked several times to the $1,000 level. A price spike of $2,200 is especially startling, given that the regulatory cap is set at $2,250. That is, the wholesale prices legally could not have gone much higher.  At the same time, according to the Electric Reliabiilty Council of Texas (ERCOT), who manages the Texas electricity grid, a new record for statewide power use was set.

Then, to top off the week, Unit 1 of the South Texas Project apparently tripped off (also known in the industry as a SCRAM – an acronym for safety control rod axe man but which is essentially an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor).

The event, first reported in a trade journal SNL Power Daily, was apparently caused by human error. “The NRC said in its Aug. 23 event report that the unit experienced an automatic reactor trip that was caused by an inadvertent turbine signal initiated during testing,” reported SNL’s Jay Hodgkins, citing the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The publication reported that power was restored by Monday. It’s unclear whether the outage contributed to the price spikes, although that seems likely.

I guess I’ll take a contribution to a price spike over a meltdown any day, but still kind of scarey!


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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