The power company and staff that operates a nuclear plant in Texas, recently hit by hurricane Harvey claimed the site was dry. The site Facebook page is full of proclamations of no problems at all on the site and some undated outdoor pictures that seem questionably dry. The photos included no embedded data showing the data taken.
Bloomberg ran an article with a plant photo that lacked a published date and was sourced from STP. The surrounding area in the photo appears quite dry. The embedded data in this photograph shows it to be from 2009 though the presentation of the image gives the reader the impression it may be a current photo.
We have been following the flooding in the area of this plant through various sources. UC Davis has created a useful interactive map using satellite data from August 29th, the date of the highest flooding. This tool enabled us to capture images of the satellite based flooding data. These screen captures below do show flooding throughout the plant site. Roads in and out of the plant were under water. Access to various areas of the plant were blocked off or partially restricted. Water encroached on the switch yard that manages power for the plant. This is particularly problematic as this could force the plant into a shutdown or to lose incoming grid power. Grid power is required to keep the safety systems for the reactors operating. Each plant has diesel generators as a back up source of power. If those diesels should fail they are then in a serious emergency situation.
The flooding made entry into the plant or out of the plant difficult to impossible as all roads were under water. This would have seriously hindered any outside assistance to the site should there be a safety related emergency. In addition, most outside resources were either busy dealing with the outcome of the storm, themselves flooded or otherwise unavailable.
A number of on site buildings were flooded. Nearby fields were sporadically flooded. The canal used to feed water from the Colorado river into the man made lake for the plant also experienced flooding. Satellite imagery showed what may have been excess water near the two man made lakes on site.
Screen capture below, nuclear plant is the white area above the lake, Colorado river runs north and south to the right side. Localized flooding can be seen throughout the map.
Screen capture below, a closer view of the plant grounds. What appears to be excess water shows around one of the cooling ponds.
Screen capture below, flooding in the plant can be seen. It appears to have flooded a number of support buildings. Water can be seen encroaching on the switch yard. The switch yard is the white rectangle above the reactor building area.
Screen capture below, this shows the flooding in more detail. Access roads and parking lots within the secured area of the plant were under water. This would have restricted free movement around the plant and may have caused water damage in these buildings.
Screen capture below, shows the land area between the Colorado river and the reactor building area. Considerable land flooding can be seen in this area. While it was not universally under water, large percentages of this land were.
Screen capture below, this shows the area where the Colorado river joins the canal used to feed water into the man made lake. Land flooding can be seen and both the river and the canal have over topped their banks. This man made lake likely has a control mechanism to prevent excessive water transfer between the lake and the river.
While the reactor blocks themselves were not under water in these satellite images, large portions of the plant were. These support areas are important to retaining the ability to effectively respond to an emergency on site. Having accessible roads is also important should there be a need for outside assistance in an emergency situation.
The plant was found to have a few flood deficiencies by the NRC in a 2013 report described and included here. Additional flooding or a failure of the raised man made lake held back by earthen berms could create more serious conditions on site. So far there have not been any documented reports of either. The peak flooding was August 29th. Hurricane Irma is still out in the Atlantic. It holds a probability of ending up in the Gulf where it could potentially cause more problems for Texas or Louisiana. The potential for this should become more refined as the storm moves closer to Florida.
South Texas Nuclear plant did experience flooding as documented by UC Davis using satellite data. While the reactor blocks themselves didn’t flood, the site did experience flooding and that can create a number of safety related risks and degradations that the public does have a right to know about.
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