Four months after a January fire, one of Texas’ four nuclear reactor units is restarting, bringing to an end the unit’s second prolonged shutdown in two years.
“We’re bringing the unit back up,” said Buddy Eller, a spokesman for the South Texas Project, the Bay City nuclear plant where the problems have occurred. The 1,350-megawatt reactor unit, known as STP Unit 2, should be producing at 100 percent power after a start up early this week, said Eller.
The fire in January occurred at a transformer in the electrical switchyard outside the reactor. The fire, fueled by oil, lasted about 10 minutes and ended up put out almost immediately by the plant’s fire brigade, Eller said.
The fire department in Bay City headed to the scene, but plant officials turned them back, saying they had the fire under control and did not need additional help, according to a representative of the Bay City Police Department.
No one suffered an injury in the fire, Eller said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and STP. However, Eller said it was safe to turn the unit back on.
“Our focus is to ensure that we put safety over [power] production,” he said, adding the outage had given the company time to perform additional maintenance tasks. The turbine blades and bearings ended up damaged when the reactor shut down quickly during the fire, he said.
It was the second major incident for STP 2 in two years. In November 2011, the reactor went down for five months after it tripped while it was at 100 percent power, according to an NRC report. The cause was a malfunction of the main generator, due to a ground fault.
In either incident was there any danger of radioactive material leaking, Eller said.
The South Texas Project plant, which began operating in the 1980s, is jointly owned by NRG Energy, which has a 44 percent stake, and two municipal utilities. CPS Energy, the San Antonio electric utility, owns 40 percent, and Austin Energy owns 16 percent. Texas’ other nuclear plant, the two-reactor Comanche Peak facility, is in Glen Rose, near Fort Worth. The two are among the youngest nuclear plants in the country.
Eller would not provide an estimate of the cost of fixing the plant. He said the plant was working through the process with its insurance company. NRG Energy said it would not discuss the cost of buying replacement power during the months the unit shut down, as such information is proprietary.
Over the past four months, STP has taken apart the turbine generator and inspected it thoroughly, Eller said. The generator — which underwent refurbishing in 2012 — was fine, he said, but “we had to replace a number of the turbine blades.”