Oil and Gas

South Texas nuclear plant readies for hurricane

HOUSTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - The STP Nuclear Operating Co began taking steps on Wednesday to protect the 2,560-megawatt nuclear plant in advance of Hurricane Ike, which is slowly churning toward a possible landfall Saturday morning in South Texas, plant officials said.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent four additional NRC inspectors to the South Texas Project near Bay City, in Matagorda County, about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Houston, said spokesman Victor Dricks.

STP is required to take both reactors offline two hours before hurricane-force winds are expected to reach the site, which is about 10 miles from the coast, Dricks said.

Crews are securing equipment and vehicles are being moved to high ground, STP officials said.

Nonessential personnel have been sent home and a storm crew is in place, said spokesman Ed Conaway.

Buildings that house the reactors and spent nuclear fuel have steel-reinforced concrete walls - four to seven feet thick - that were built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and tornadoes, STP said.

The twin reactors can produce 7.5 percent of the electricity used in Texas.

South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Co operates the station for its owners: NRG Energy Inc NRG.N (44 percent), the City of San Antonio's CPS Energy (40 percent) and the City of Austin's Austin Energy (16 percent).

NRG, which has partnered with Toshiba Corp to form Nuclear Innovation North America LLC, and CPS Energy want to build two additional reactors at the site. (Reporting by Eileen O’Grady; Editing by Marguerita Choy)