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Credible Threat of Severe Accident at Texas Nuclear Reactors Still Running During Hurricane

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Organization Profile:
Beyond Nuclear

Paul Gunter, 301-523-0201; Susan Dancer, 979-479-0627; Karen Hadden, 512-797-8481

TAKOMA PARK, MD – Watchdog groups today warned that there is "a credible threat of a severe accident" at the two nuclear reactors still operating at 100% power in Bay City, TX in the midst of severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. The groups called for the immediate shutdown of the South Texas Project (STP) which sits behind an embankment that is at risk of breaching, given the unprecedented volume of water raining down in the region.

"Both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the STP operator have previously recognized a credible threat of a severe accident initiated by a breach of the embankment wall that surrounds the 7,000-acre reactor cooling water reservoir," said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project with Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, MD.

A 12-mile long earth and cement dike surrounds South Texas Project’s Main Cooling Reservoir. The top of the cooling reservoir wall is between 65 and 67 feet above mean sea level, with the reactor site situated below at 29 feet above mean sea level. The NRC is not providing a status report on the water level in the reservoir where the normal maximum operating level is 49 feet above mean sea level.

A breach of the embankment wall would create an external flood potentially impacting the electrical supply from the switchyard to the reactor safety systems. This could cause high-energy electrical fires and other cascading events initiating a severe accident leading to core damage. Additionally, any significant loss of cooling water inventory in the Main Cooling Reservoir would reduce cooling capacity to the still operating reactors that could result in a meltdown.

"However remote, it’s simply prudent that the operator put this reactor into its safest condition, cold shutdown," Gunter concluded.

"The Bay City Mayor and Matagorda County Judge have now issued mandatory evacuation orders as Bay City is expected to be ten feet under water in a flood," said Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy who has had to flee her home.

"Our 911 system is down, no emergency services are available, and yet the nuclear reactors are still running. Where is the concern for employees and their families? Where is the concern for public safety?" asked Dancer. "This is an outrageous and irresponsible decision."

Dancer recalled the "unimaginable" triple disaster in Japan in 2011 where a tsunami and earthquake combined to cripple three nuclear reactors which exploded and melted down, contaminating a wide area with radiation indefinitely and complicating rescue and evacuation efforts.

"This storm and flood is absolutely without precedent even before adding the possibility of a nuclear accident that could further imperil millions of people who are already battling for their lives," added Dancer.

"The Colorado River is cresting extremely high and flowing at 70 times the normal rate," said Karen Hadden, Director of SEED Coalition. "It’s expected to approach flood stage (44 feet) near Bay City today, and exceed flood stage on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Flood waters reaching the nuclear reactors could make operation increasingly dangerous and the rains are expected to continue.

"There is plenty of reserve capacity on our electric grid, so we don’t have to run the reactors in order to keep the lights on. With anticipated flooding of the Colorado River, the nuclear reactors should be shut down now to ensure safety," Hadden said.

Utilities in Houston, San Antonio and Austin own the nuclear reactor and operate it as South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC). South Texas Project is seeking to get re-licensed for 20 more years.


Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

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City considering opposing nuclear waste transport

March 9, 2017

By Brendan Gibbons STAFF WRITER
San Antonio Express-News

San Antonio City Council members are considering whether to get involved legally in an application to begin accepting highly radioactive nuclear waste at a privately operated site in West Texas.

A request filed by District 8 councilman and mayoral candidate Ron Nirenberg expresses opposition to having thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel pass through San Antonio via freight rail. Bexar County commissioners passed a similar resolution in February.

“It would be nonsensical to put the waste inventory … through one of the largest metro communities in the country,” Nirenberg said.

Unlike the county’s resolution, Nirenberg’s request asks city staff to “explore the opportunity to intervene” in an application by Waste Control Specialists to store spent nuclear fuel. An intervenor is an outside entity that joins a proceeding with the permission of a judge.

WCS officials have said they eventually hope to accept up to 40,000 tons over 40 years, which would require shipping 3,000 canisters of waste.

The spent nuclear fuel left over from the process of generating electricity is now being stored at 62 active or closed nuclear power plants across the U.S. The independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing the WCS application to store a portion of this waste at a site near Andrews.

In a February interview, NRC spokesman Dave McIntyre said intervenors need to prove legal standing and provide at least one “admissible contention,” a legitimate argument that WCS’ application would not adequately protect public health and safety.

The resolution seems to have the support of most council members. Several said they want to at least have a public discussion over the proposal and whether it makes sense for the city to intervene.

In a statement Thursday, Mayor Ivy Taylor said she supports the resolution going before the council’s Governance Committee.

“I also believe that city staff should at least have a seat at the table during the NRC licensing process to ensure their decisions do not negatively impact our community’s health and safety,” she said.

The deadline for intervening before the NRC is March 31. bgibbons(at) Twitter: @bgibbs

Radioactive Waste Bill Threatens Texas and New Mexico; Poses Nationwide Risks from Dangerous Unnecessary Transport

October 11, 2017

For Immediate Release

Karen Hadden, SEED Coalition, 512-797-8481
Tom "Smitty" Smith, Senior Advocate for Public Citizen’s Texas Office, 512-797-8468

Citizens Oppose HR 3053 – Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments of 2017

AUSTIN, TX, — Texas and New Mexico are targeted as ground zero for the nation’s high-level radioactive waste, the most deadly of all radioactive materials. Dallas, Bexar, Midland and Nueces County Commissions in Texas and the cities of San Antonio and Lake Arthur, New Mexico studied the issue and passed resolutions opposing transport of high-level radioactive waste through their communities. But Congress will soon debate a bill that would smooth the path for consolidated interim storage by removing an existing hurdle in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

The NRC could then license consolidated interim storage facilities proposed for Texas and New Mexico. An unprecedented mass movement of high-level radioactive waste across the nation could occur, with over 10,000 train shipments, occurring over a period of 24 years. A previous DOE study found that at least one train accident could be expected if transport was mainly by train. A 42-square mile area could be contaminated from a small radioactive release, and remediation costs could range from $620 million in a rural area up to $9.5 billion for a single square mile in a major city.

"Public health and safety should be prioritized," said Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel, who sponsored the resolution passed by Dallas County. "Congress should enact protections for communities along potential transport routes, not speed progress toward consolidated interim storage in Texas and New Mexico. Shimkus’ H.R. 3053 should be amended to require that transport routes be designated and public hearings be held before any radioactive waste facility can be licensed. People have a right to know if they would be at risk."

"Moving this deadly waste simply to store it all in one place creates unnecessary risks from accidents, leaks and terrorism," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Senior Advocate for Public Citizen’s Texas office. "There’s no need to move it right now and it’s less dangerous to secure it at reactor sites. Radioactive waste should only be moved once, when a permanent repository with the right location and robust storage systems is available, in order to isolate the waste for millions of years. Storing dangerous radioactive waste for decades in a seismically active region can only lead to disaster. Millions of people could be impacted by leaks or an accident if the nation’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala, became contaminated."

"Trains carrying high-level radioactive waste from reactors around the country should not come through our communities or move alongside major military bases in San Antonio, especially since each rail car would carry as much plutonium as was in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki," said Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, Jr., who sponsored the resolution passed there. "I hope our Texas Congressional delegation will oppose H.R. 3053, the bill that removes existing protections in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and could lead to dangerous nuclear reactor waste from the whole country being dumped here. We say "Don’t Mess With Texas."

"We received none of the electricity produced by nuclear reactors in California, Chicago or New York, and had no economic benefit from them," said Elizabeth Padilla, a concerned mother in Andrews County. "It is a massive injustice to bring in the most deadly radioactive waste from the entire country and dump it in our backyard. They generated the waste. They should take responsibility for storing it where it was generated, and not dump it on communities that don’t have the millions of dollars needed to fight back."

"My community does not want dangerous radioactive waste, despite claims made by nuclear lobbyists and politicians who see us as their dumping ground," said Rose Gardner who has been fighting low-level radioactive waste in her community for years. "Two companies now want to bring in the deadliest of all radioactive waste, from around the entire country, store it in our backyard and keep it there for decades. We don’t want it and we don’t consent to being dumped on. We live here. We have children. And we’re not the sacrifice zone for wealthier communities who should keep their own waste." Gardner lives in Eunice, New Mexico, 5 miles west of the proposed WCS radioactive waste storage site, and southeast of the proposed Holtec / Eddy Lea Energy Alliance site, proposed for midway between Carlsbad and Hobbs, NM.

"For decades, the large majority of New Mexicans have repeatedly said NO to commercial spent fuel when it was proposed by the Department of Energy for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and when utilities proposed a Holtec-type dump on Mescalero Apache land. Those proposals were defeated. The Holtec site will also stopped," said Don Hancock, Nuclear Waste Program Director at Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

"The Navajo Nation prohibits transport of radioactive materials through Diné Bikeyah-our indigenous lands-but doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal and state highways or railways," said Leona Morgan of Diné No Nukes, an organization working to address nuclear colonialism. "In addition to the thousands of abandoned uranium mines in the Southwest, having high-level radioactive waste transported through and dumped here would add to the radioactive risks people suffer already."

What can be done?

"Homeowners’ insurance policies generally don’t cover nuclear accidents and no one wants their children accidentally exposed to radiation that can cause cancer, genetic damage or death," said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. "We call on our Congressional leaders to stop the insane path toward dumping the nation’s radioactive waste on Texas and New Mexico. We strongly oppose Shimkus’ bill. At minimum, it should be amended to require that transportation routes be designated before any consolidated interim storage site for deadly radioactive waste can be licensed. People have a right to know if they’re at risk for shipments of radioactive waste coming through their neighborhoods."

Expected routes to Yucca Mountain were previously developed. Routes to Texas and New Mexico consolidated interim storage sites could be similar, but have not been designated.

Please visit:
– more information about HR 3053 and consolidated interim storage
(With 20 of the major cities high-level radioactive waste could travel through)

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