The STNP Record What’s wrong with STNP? The story of the project has, as Austin anti-nuclear activist Todd Samusson once wrote, “the duration of a Dickens serial and the suspense of the Watergate tapes.” Started in 1975, the plant was designed by Houston construction firm Brown and Root, which at that time had no experience with nuclear power plants. Brown and Root’s stint as STNP engineer and construction manager was marked by the alleged harassment of safety inspectors and substandard construction. In 1981 project manager Houston Lighting and Power commissioned an independent study of Brown and Root’s design work. Called the Quadrex Report, it found Brown and Root’s design loaded with mistakes, including some plant safety problems, and haphazard Brown and Root people seemed confused in some instances about who had responsibility for what. So after six years, a $100,000 fine by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and several cost overruns, HL&P fired Brown and Root as engineer. Brown and Root subsequently quit as construction manager; HL&P sued Brown and Root; Brown and Root countersued. The lawsuits have not been settled. The new engineer and construction manager of STNP is Bechtel Power Corporation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that Bechtel is correcting all of the Brown and Root design problems that were revealed in the Quadrex Report. However, according to the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, Bechtel has made its own series of mistakes designing and building nuclear plants and has been the object of lawsuits by two unhappy utility companies. One of them, Consumers Power Company in Michigan, sued Bechtel in 1974 after a plant it built leaked radioactive water into Lake Michigan. Bechtel settled out of court for $14 million. Bechtel estimates STNP’s final cost at $5.5 billion $4.5 billion over the original budget. “I do not have faith in Bechtel’s $5.5 billion estimate,” says Austin city council member Roger Duncan. “I think it will be much higher than that.” The project is seven years behind schedule. This fall the Public Utility Commission concluded: “The record evidence establishes that HL&P has mismanaged STNP. It is clear that HL&P is responsible for the delays at STNP.” Austin is trying to sell its STNP share, and Mayor Henry Cisneros has attempted to sell half of San Antonio’s share of the project “because,” Cisneros says, “of the uncertainty associated with it.” In January, Austin filed suit against HL&P, alleging mismanagement and seeking a refund of Austin’s investment in STNP. N. B. Cancellation can mean an explosion of lawsuits, as it has for the Washington Public Power System, but so can continuation of a project: there are three in a nuclear project can agree not to sue each other when they decide to cancel. Utilities cancel nuclear projects when the troubles involved with finishing them outweigh the troubles involved with canceling. The familiar pattern of multi-billion-dollar cost overruns, years of construction delays, and licensing problems, combined with the poor operating and safety record of nuclear power plants shutdowns, accidents, under-capacity electricity generation can make cancellation the least burdensome choice. “I really don’t know whether the majority of the people of . . . Austin would be willing to suffer the higher electric bills from cancellation with the view that they’re preventing even higher electric bills in the future or not whether that perception’s there,” says Austin city council member Roger Duncan, a longtime leader in the fight against Austin’s participation in STNP. Austin has $437 million invested in STNP. “It’s awfully hard to take a $400 million loss, and that loss translates directly to electric bills. But I know there’s certainly a vocal minority in this town, of which I’m part, that would accept cancellation right now.” San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros says that he pressed “from last January through August . . . to cut the project in half” by canceling the second of the two reactor units. Cisneros gave up the idea when Bechtel Power Corporation, current engineer and construction manager at STNP, reported that canceling Unit 2 would not be financially prudent because so much of the infrastructure is already in place for both units. When asked if Bechtel has a clear interest in the completion of the whole project, Cisneros said that he could have asked for an independent study on canceling the seond unit “if I really wanted to push it.” “I guess at one point I was a general supporter of nuclear power,” Cisneros told the Observer. ” . . No one had persuaded me that there is a fundamental wrong associated with nuclear power.” He acknowledges that cancellation is an option but is concerned about San Antonio’s $800 million investment: “It would have to be a very clear signal . . . to cause us to face up to the fact that it’s not going to generate electricity. . . . To throw away $800 million I’d have to have some pretty doggone clear indication that it’s not going to produce power. $800 million is a lot of money. A lot, a lot, a lot of money.” “A lot of people don’t think it’ll ever be on line,” a PUC spokesman mused as we talked about STNP. The chairman of HL&P, Dan Jordan, disagrees: according to the Houston Post, he told the PUC at a hearing this fall that there is “no question in my mind” that STNP will be finished and produce electricity “at a very good rate.” \(HL&P refused to talk to the Investor-owned Central Power and Light in Corpus Christi has spent $500 million on STNP so far and, according to CP&L spokesman Steve Leggett, has never seriously considered abandoning the project. With nuclear energy, Leggett says, “the high costs tend to be dur ing the construction phase. Fuel costs are lower. . . . Over the life of the plant you realize a savings.” “I’m willing to put forth the idea of cancellation to the other partners,” says Duncan, Austin’s representative as an STNP Chief Executive Officer, who meet quarterly. “I don’t think that I will get a sympathetic ear from the other partners. . . . I have doubts personally about the ability of that plant to perform effectively for thirty years. They do not have those doubts. But if the plant is not going to operate efficiently and there are problems . . . licensing it and if the cost rises significantly from where it is now, then cancellation is a cost-saving measure.” 4 FEBRUARY 11, 1983
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