Hearing on nuclear plant spurs debate

By Nolan Hicks

BAY CITY — The South Texas Project is an essential part of the Bay City area economy, said local leaders who support plans to extend licenses for the nuclear power plant.

But opponents are questioning the extension’s impact on the environment, including how the country will deal with nuclear waste.

Both sides attended public hearings on Tuesday required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that regulates the nation’s nuclear power plants. Agency officials heard input for an environmental report – an important part of its examination of the South Texas Project’s bid to extend its licenses.

The agency’s draft report found that allowing the plant to continue generating power would have little or no impact on the environment.

20-year extensions

Currently, STP’s two licenses to operate the two reactors at the Matagorda County facility are set to expire in 2027 and 2028. Extending the licenses would add another 20 years to each.

Public hearings are one of the last requirements of the environmental review process. But turnout for the afternoon session was light – about a dozen people.

The federal agency expects to issue the final report in July.

The commission also is required to ensure that the aging reactors, about 90 miles southwest of Houston, would be able to continue operating safely.

Local officials said the facility poses no real danger to the environment and the plant is key to the area’s economy.

“STP’s license renewal will provide jobs for our children and build a strong economic base for our community,” said Carolyn Thames, a member of Bay City’s City Council, who was one of three civic leaders who spoke in favor of the project.

Area’s ‘lifeblood’

Bay City ISD board member Terry Farrar described STP as “the life-blood of our community.”

If STP weren’t in Bay City, a town of about 17,000 people, “we would probably die,” Thames said. “They have 1,200 employees.”

However, an environmental activist argued the federal agency should allow STP’s licenses to expire as currently scheduled.

Over the next 15 years, she added, the community could transition away from its dependence on the nuclear plant.

“This is the time to plan for a transition, to plan for worker training, to plan for cleaner, safer energy for the future,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, which is based in Austin.

Susan Dancer, a local anti-nuclear activist who was sitting with Hadden, said she opposed the license extension for multiple reasons, including uncertainty about how the country will deal with nuclear waste.

“STP is kind of Matagorda County’s sacred cow that you’re not supposed to speak against or question,” Danner said. “I think it’s really important … for citizens to question, to look into what’s going on.”