South Texas nuke challenge deadline nears

Refueling at STNP: Is it time to double our pleasure? (DOE courtesy pic)

Greg Harman

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When the phone book is distributed in Bay City, there are two fluorescent pages inside: one to inform emergency responders that you have evacuated because of a meltdown at the nearby South Texas Nuclear Project, another to say you need help evacuating because of a meltdown at the nearby South Texas Nuclear Project.

So far Bay City resident Susan Dancer hasn't had cause to hang either of those pages, but neither has she or any of her neighbors ever received the potassium iodide pills federal law requires be distributed to those living in the shadow of nuclear power plants.

Providing that possibly life-saving precaution would be bad PR, she said. (As is this promo shot from Senator Hutchison's website, I might add.)

But, as the window is closing for nuke opponents to launch a formal challenge to CPS Energy's license application, that oversight isn't the only reason Dancer, founder of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy, is opposing the proposed doubling of the nuke complex.

There's unaddressed poverty to consider, the cost of tax abatements, and potential for disaster.

Listen in on our conversation:


Opponents of the plan now have two months to file formal opposition to the expansion plans.

Here's what that camp wrote in a press release shipped out earlier today:

“CPS Energy has been stealthily and irresponsibly getting San Antonio deeper and deeper into this nuclear boondoggle, which is already raising our utility rates,” said Cindy Weehler of the Consumers' Energy Coalition.

“There are cleaner, more affordable ways to generate electricity. Energy efficiency should be prioritized, not put on a back burner. With the economic downturn, we shouldn't generate power that's not needed. San Antonio has reduced energy use by 16% over the past two years. Why should we even consider antiquated reactors that could cost $17.5 billion and would leave radioactive waste for generations to come?”

“The streamlined combined construction and operating license process is designed to cut citizens out and limit public involvement. Safety concerns are taking a backseat to cost-cutting measures and the public doesn't even know it yet” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.

Nuclear opponents point out the troubled history of existing STP Units 1 & 2, reactors which ran six times over budget and were eight years late coming online. This sordid history includes harassment and illegal firing of employees who lodged safety complaints, theft of materials, subcontractor price-fixing schemes, and falsification of quality assurance/quality control reports.

Before either unit was in operation The Austin Light newspaper reported on February 17, 1988, “There are currently more than 650 allegations concerning safety, costs and criminal activities brought by people who have worked on the project.” NRC Region IV became a target for a US Senate committee investigation for “corrupt” oversight of construction practices at STNP and Comanche Peak, another Brown and Root project. Sen. John Glenn said the agency is “more lapdog than watchdog.”

STPNOC includes NRG and CPS Energy, the municipal utility in San Antonio. Austin Energy, a partner in existing reactors at the site, has declined to participate in the proposed expansion.

An indefinite suspension of the license hearing was obtained through a petition SEED Coalition filed last year, based on the incomplete nature of the application. That suspension has now ended with the notice issued today by the NRC on the Federal Register regarding the public's opportunity to request participation in the hearing regarding the South Texas Project COL. The deadline for filing a request to participate is April 21. Citizens must develop their contentions, their legal case, during this extremely short time period, despite the fact that further revisions of the application are still anticipated.

The federal register notice along with information regarding the history of the existing ST(N)P reactors will also be posted at

The NRC writes:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today announced the opportunity to participate in the hearing on a Combined License (COL) application for two new reactors at the South Texas Project site near Bay City, Texas.

NRG Energy and South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company submitted the COL application and associated information Sept. 20, 2007, and updated the application on Jan. 31, 2008, and Sept. 24, 2008. The application seeks approval to build and operate two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) at the site, approximately 12 miles southwest of Bay City. The NRC certified the ABWR design in 1997, and the design is currently in use overseas. The application (minus proprietary or security-related details), is available on the NRC Web site at:

The NRC staff determined in November 2007 that the application contained sufficient information for the agency to formally “docket,” or file, the application and begin its technical review. Much of the review was suspended in January 2008, following the applicants' decision to change reactor vendors, and the application's Sept. 24, 2008, revision reflected that change. The staff has determined the updated application is sufficient to restart review activities. Restarting the application's review does not preclude additional requests for information as the review proceeds; nor does it indicate whether the Commission will issue the license. The docket numbers established for this application are 52-012 and 52-013.

The NRC has issued in the Federal Register a notice of opportunity to intervene in the proceeding on the application, and the deadline for requesting a hearing is April 21. Petitions may be filed by anyone whose interest may be affected by the proposed license, who wishes to participate as a party in the proceeding, and who meets criteria set out in the NRC's regulations. Background information regarding the hearing process was provided by NRC staff to members of the public during a June 2007 public information session in Bay City.

A petition to intervene must be electronically submitted in a timely manner to the NRC's Electronic Information Exchange (EIE) system. The petition to intervene must be filed in accordance with the NRC's E-Filing Rule that appeared in the Federal Register on Aug. 28, 2007. Additional guidance and instructions regarding electronic submissions to the NRC EIE system are available on the NRC Web site at

Detailed information about the new reactor licensing process can be found on the NRC Web site at:

The board of CPS Energy has invested $266 million in what officials have termed site review and design process for the STNP expansion and another $10 million to “explore” other nuclear options.

While STNP partner Austin Energy decided not to participate in the expansion plan due to financial uncertainty and concern about the waste the project would generate. In a nod to economic uncertainties, the board of CPS announced they will delay a final decision until the fall.

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