South Texas Project nuclear plant running despite Harvey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The two nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project plant near Houston were operating at full capacity on Tuesday, a spokesman for the plant said, as watchdog groups called for the facility to shut due to Tropical Storm Harvey.

“We’ve got significant rain but flooding has not been an issue here,” spokesman Buddy Eller said in a phone call about the reactors, located 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Houston.

Three watchdog groups, the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development coalition (SEED), the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy and Beyond Nuclear urged politicians, the owners of the reactors, and regulators to shut down the plant due to Harvey which has slammed Texas with record floods.

The groups expressed concern about workers at the plant and the safety of the general public if Harvey caused an accident at the reactors.

“It’s simply prudent that the operator put this reactor into its safest condition, cold shutdown,” said Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear. Gunter said his group is worried that floods could breach an embankment wall at the plant.

When asked if the plant would shut if flooding worsened, Eller said “We are going to do what’s right from a safety standpoint.” He said the facility was designed for harsh conditions and had not experienced sustained strong winds.

Eller said 250 “storm crew” workers were running the plant and did not have to venture out into the storm after work shifts because there are beds on site.

The reactors, 44 percent of which are owned by NRG Energy Inc, provide 2,700 megawatts of power to 2 million customers in Texas. The rest of the reactors are owned by the city of San Antonio’s CPS Energy utility, with 40 percent, and the city of Austin’s Austin Energy, with 16 percent.

Personnel from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are also at the plant, assessing storm conditions.

“The South Texas Project reactors have been operating safely throughout Harvey and continue to do so,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in an email.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Chang and David Gregorio