Largest nuclear plant in U.S. coming here?

October 16, 2008 4:33:04 AM PDT
Expansion plans could bring the nation's largest nuclear power plant within an hour of your home. And now, we're getting a rare look inside the South Texas Project. It is a hot topic in the race for president, with implications right in our backyard, an affordable solution to our dependence on foreign oil. But how safe is it?

The South Texas Plant is just outside Wadsworth near Bay City, and along the Colorado River in Brazoria County.

You can see the domes for miles. Two hundred feet tall, with four foot thick walls. You don't get inside easily. The people behind the South Texas Project want to build more reactors. It could save you money. Nuclear power costs a fraction of natural gas power, but it is not without problems.

And now, you're coming inside a nuclear reactor with us for a very rare look.

"Every 18 months, we offload the entire core," said Alec McGilliard with the South Texas Project.

The South Texas Project is loading new radioactive fuel into one of its two reactors this week. Each one provides enough power to light a million Texas homes and businesses. It is the lowest cost power producer by far in the state.

And investors last year asked the federal government to add two more reactors here. It would be the biggest nuclear facility in the country.

"Being able to produce nuclear energy without reliance on Middle Eastern oil and little carbon emissions is a national priority," said Eddy Daniels with NRG Energy.

This election season, both presidential candidates seem to agree.

"Nuclear power is safe, and it's clean and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs," said GOP presidential hopeful John McCain.

His Democratic opponent, Barack Obama agreed, saying, "Favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix."

But it is not without controversy. There's a spent fuel pool at the South Texas Project. They say they can keep 40 years of radioactive fuel inside the thing and it really is about twice the size of a backyard pool. The spent fuel is the single biggest issue for this industry. If the U.S. is going to expand the nuclear industry here, where does all that fuel go?

"The waste solution has to come," said Daniels.

This pool holds 40 years of fuel. They want to run the reactor for 60 years. The waste will be radioactive for centuries.

The plan to store waste inside a Nevada mountain hit snags. Without a solution, it will stay here, the industry says, safely. But there has to be another answer.

"The solution doesn't have to occur in a one or two year period," said Daniels. "It can wait decades. We're confident something will be reached by the Department of Energy."

If approved by the feds, it will be 2011 before construction starts. It will cost billions of dollars and the feds are offering loan guarantees which in today's credit markets would make funding far easier.

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