Could a nuclear emergency happen in Houston?

Nearly 13 percent of the power used in Texas comes from nuclear energy

March 15, 2011 4:42:36 PM PDT
The ongoing disaster in Japan has energy officials in the U.S. taking a closer look at the use of nuclear energy. Nearly 13 percent of the power used in Texas comes from nuclear energy, and a majority of that comes from the South Texas Project nuclear plant just south of Houston. The talk during lunch hour in Bay City Tuesday was about the nuclear emergency still unfolding in Japan and whether that can happen just down the road at the STP nuclear facility.

"If it happens, it happens. We can't all leave our home. I'm not going to run for it," said Samantha Weavers, who has lived just miles from the STP nuclear power plant for years.

Like most residents we talked to, they admit there is always some risk, but they also point out there are few other options.

"Yeah, I'm going to worry, but that doesn't mean I can do anything," nearby resident Clint Ramey said.

STP officials are quick to point out they have taken a number of precautions. So, even if a storm surge hits the plant, they'll be ready.

"[Our nuclear reactors] are behind concrete bunkers with waterproof doors," STP CEO Ed Halpin explained. "And not only do we have a back-up, but we have a back-up to the back-up."

The bigger battle may come in the next months or years because STP is in the midst of getting financing and governmental approval to expand its facilities.

Even though the Texas nuclear plant here is a different type of energy generation plant than the nuclear plant in Japan, it's hard to avoid the simple fact that what's going on half a world away could hamper efforts to expand the plant in Texas.

"I'm not niave. It's going to be an uphill battle, especially when you see the pictures coming from Fukushima," Halpin said.

STP says it's simply too early to say if expansion plans will be derailed by Japan's crisis, but Bay City residents say they'll live with what they have.

"We learned to live with it. You know? Like everybody else has in the United States that has one close by," Weaver said.