Nuke plant approaches key phase of license renewal

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Tuesday it will hold two meetings in January to gather public comment for a key report that could determine if the South Texas Project receives 20-year extensions on licenses to operate its two nuclear reactors.

The environmental review is one of two— the other examines the plant’s safety — that the federal agency’s staff must complete before granting the extensions.

The current licenses for the reactors expire in 2027 and 2028.

“This is an important part of the process because we rely on the community to make sure we have all the information we need to do an effective review,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. “The community is in the best position to point out to us if we missed something.”

The South Texas Project is operated by the STP Nuclear Operating Company, which is co-owned by city-owned CPS Energy, Austin Energy and NRG Energy.

“It’s another step in the process — it’s an important step in the process,” said Buddy Eller, spokesman for the South Texas Project, which began operating its two nuclear reactors at its site in Matagorda County in the late 1980s.

A plan to build two more reactors at the South Texas Project fell apart in 2010 after CPS disclosed that cost estimates came back $4 billion higher than expected. The total cost of the project had ballooned to $18 billion, or $5 billion more than had been estimated earlier.

“We certainly have ongoing concerns about the South Texas plant,” said Cyrus Reed, the acting director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

While he said the organization needed to study the license-extension issue more before taking a position on it, Reed added that the facility’s locally stored waste raises safety and environmental concerns.

Sierra Club opposed the proposed expansion.

STP’s bid to extend its licenses could be delayed for another reason: The process has been put on hold while the NRC’s staff completes a study of the environmental effect of storing nuclear waste at plant sites, which is expected to be completed in 2014.

A panel of appellate judges in Washington, D.C., ordered the review in June.

The two meetings are scheduled for Jan. 15 in Bay City at the Bay City Civic Center. The first session is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and the second at 7 p.m.

nhicks@express-news.net

Twitter: @ndhapple