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Owner of damaged Japanese nuclear plant has financial stake in Bay City's STP

By adriana_acosta
March 15, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated March 14, 2011 at 10:15 p.m.

South Texas Project, located outside of Bay City,  is the only plant in the United States to feature three separate safety systems,  said Buddy Eller, director of communication for South Texas Project. Eller said the plant is able to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

BAY CITY - In the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, officials at South Texas Project are watching closely - especially because they have a vested interest.

One of the potential partners for the expansion of Units 3 and 4 is Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, one of the nuclear power plants in distress.

Determining whether the tragedy across the Pacific Ocean will affect the South Texas Project's ability to receive federal loan guarantees for Units 3 and 4 is premature, said Ed Halpin, president and chief executive officer for South Texas Project.

"Our main concern is trying to assist in any way that we can," he said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is one of the world's largest operators of nuclear plants and is a potential partner for Units 3 and 4, contingent on the loan guarantees.

Last May, Tokyo Electric Power announced it would invest $155 million through its U.S.-based subsidiary for a 10 percent share.

"There will be a lot of lessons learned from this tragedy in Japan. The industry will certainly incorporate and observe a lot of these lessons as we move forward," Halpin said.

The Japanese plant, which houses six reactors, was damaged in a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week. The plant is centered along the shore of the Sendai region, 155 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Halpin said what happened in Japan is highly unlikely here, and the design of South Texas Project is safer.

South Texas Project is the only plant in the United States to feature three separate safety systems, said Buddy Eller, director of communication for South Texas Project. Each safety transit feature has independent systems, which include diesel generators, pumps, valves and instrumentation.

"These backup safety systems allow you to basically power the plant in the event you lose power or have an incident," Eller said.

In Japan, the reactors lost all of their emergency safety systems, he said.

By contrast, Eller said, the STP units "are independent, water-tight concrete buildings designed to withstand earthquakes and flooding."

The nuclear power plant, located outside Bay City, can withstand a Category 5 hurricane, he said.

Halpin added it is too early to tell whether the problems Japan is experiencing will make people in the United States change their minds about nuclear energy.

"I am not naive. It is going to be an uphill battle, especially when you see the pictures coming from Japan. We are just hoping for the best," he said.

Halpin said he still believes nuclear energy will play a major role in the state and the nation's long-term energy future.

He also said it is too early to speculate about funding and investors for Units 3 and 4.

"We are moving along with our re-licensing of Units 1 and 2 and licensing efforts with Units 3 and 4," Eller said.

Halpin said STP's concern goes far beyond any business interest in the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan. The tragic events unfolding underscore nature's immense force and power. This is a devastating tragedy," he said. "Japan is facing what literally can be described as a worst-case disaster. We stand ready to assist in any way we can."

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