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Bay City Trollers

Streams and rivers move past us to the Gulf, mixing into the countless brackish bays and reed-chocked estuaries where millions upon millions of crusted and scaly aquatic infants spill into the greater coastal system each year.

We follow the watershed's coastward slump from San Antonio for nearly 200 miles. Against us is the Gulf's returning wind, three flags ripple a northern line over the Bay City Convention Center as about 200 gather to talk nukes.

Not far from here a massive pool holds decades of used-up uranium fuel rods and wastewater. This waste with nowhere to go is thoughtlessly engaged in a stabilization process, known as decay, that will take tens of thousands of years. Until that point, the ionizing radiation this material gives off will remain deadly.

That doesn't bother the mayor here. Or their state Rep. Or the sheriff. Don't even mention the economic boosters who would just as soon chew up those rods and crap 'em into their personal swimming pools than lose the prospect of another multi-year blizzard of construction.

Although the two units operating at the South Texas Nuclear Project outside of town, in which San Antonio holds a 40 percent stake, almost bankrupt the partner city of Austin by coming in over budget and years behind schedule, local business and governmental leaders took turns behind the microphone insisting two more plants would turn this quiet coastal town's economy around.

With uranium mining activity heating up in South Texas and up-and-coming radioactive waste repository (with aspirations of national dump status) in the Panhandle, the face of Texas is already changing to reflect the Bush Administration's continued championing of a resurgence for the nuclear industry. There is no indication that any of the surviving presidential candidates would set out to change that. Not voluntarily.

It's been almost 30 years since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a new construction license. STNP, rather primary owners NRG Energy and CPS Energy, want to change that. On Tuesday, teams of NRC representatives are busily padding all about the oversized, sparklingly clean center gripping hands and directing human traffic between the tables of agency literature.

Texas Rep. Mike O'Day said he was proud to have his "pleasure home" within sight of STNP, that he had never felt "in danger," and even had friends who worked there.

Matagorda County Sheriff James Mitchell boasted his deputies got their SWAT training at the plant.
"I not only welcome units three and four, I look forward to them."

Georgia Rice Harris, who served on the city council when Units 1&2 were first approved, gave notice that a fault line does run through Matagorda, but surmised: "I think we can handle it… I don't know any industry that is absolutely safe. How many people have been killed in refineries blowing up? I mean, something happens somewhere all the time."

What's the difference between an explosion in Texas City or Bay City? Things get rebuilt. Employees return. (That's not considering the potential incineration of Bay City under a 'worst case' scenario or the contamination of a good portion of Texas via that strong Gulf breeze. These are things the NRC doesn't talk about any more.)

A woman who during the first plant's construction told me that folks on site back then were working 16 hours a day trying to get things running. She didn't consider the risks involved in their work, but she didn't appreciate it when a manager threw a telephone across the room at her and soon quit.
But some in Bay City today would like to see that stockpiled waste moved somewhere before new cooling towers are planted at the site. Others suggested that the nuclear era had already passed and it was time to focus on solar and wind projects on the Coast.

"I don't think our time spent here is much better than free therapy," said one.

A local nurse said she had been living peacefully with the current nuke plant. "But my problem is, I do have concern about building more nuclear power plants as opposed to looking for alternative choices," she said. "I have concern that our monies are being directed into something that is seducing our citizenry."

She worried over water.

"If we are going to be taking water from the Colorado River and giving 3,935 gallons-per-minute to cool new nuclear reactors we're also going to be compromising our need for water for San Antonio.
"Everybody's coming to Matagorda because they love our fishing, but we're not going to have fish, we're not going to have shrimp, we're not going to have anything if we're not protecting our water."

Water forecasts in fast-growing are anything but rosy, and municipalities across the state have water hit squads beating the barrens for reliable (unclaimed) groundwater reserves. Then we have this cursed bugabear of Global Warming to contend with.

Texas A&M's recent projections for the coming century are not optimistic on that front.
"In the short run, this result implies greater risk of flooding and increases in rainfall intensity will exacerbate any increased runoff due to paving of bare-soils as watersheds undergo urbanization," Venkatesh Uddameri and Gomathishankar Parvathinathan write in the chapter dedicated to climate change's impact on water resources in The Changing Climate of South Texas, 1900 – 2100.
"Increased runoff would also indicate reduced infiltration which in the long run will lead to reduced groundwater recharge and lesser availability of water."

Despite concerns about magma activity below and water streams within Yucca Mountain, the U.S. Department of Energy is exerting another strong push to get the potential waste site back on track for a high-level radioactive waste site.

Thankfully, the four NRC men seated at front (only one of which sporadically dozes behind a sheltering hand) tell us they are not the DOE.

"We are not here to promote nuclear power," the deputy director overseeing the environmental review of NRG/CPS's application says.

However, the agency's mission is not only to ensure "adequate protection of the public health and safety" from nuclear materials, but also to "promote the common defense and security," as well.

In this era of increasing fear, panicked Americans have chosen abandon much of their political rights in exchange for an open-ended War on Evil. Tragically, the terrorists that have failed to dramatically reappear on U.S. soil have been replaced by fellow American immigrants from the South. Meanwhile, either three-dollar gallon of gasoline or the approaching 4,000 dead in Iraq have sparked a call for energy independence that has likewise turned against us by a renegging on supposed clean coal demo project FutureGen and funneling government dollars (more than $8 billion of them) over to the most expensive and least stable form of domestic energy generation: nuclear.

If you still haven't read one of many sustainable alternative proposals, please check out: A Solar Grand Plan.

Posted by Greg Harman on 2/6/2008
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