Nuclear plant to shut down for Rita
2 Texas reactors built to stand up to Category 5 storm
(CNN) -- Officials at a Texas nuclear power plant in the path of Hurricane Rita prepared Wednesday to shut down two reactors.
The South Texas Project plant serving 1 million customers is built on elevated ground in Bay City, 12 miles inland from the Texas coast. It is designed to withstand storm surges from Category 5 hurricanes.
"We have a specific plan in place on what to do with a hurricane approaching," spokesman Alan Mikus said. "Our plan calls for the complete shutdown of the plant in advance of the storm's arrival."
The two reactor containment buildings are made of 4-foot-thick steel-reinforced concrete walls -- strong enough to withstand a Category 5 storm, or the direct impact of a Boeing 767.
They are two of the strongest buildings in Texas. "The plant is designed to withstand tornadic force winds, which are higher than hurricane force winds," Mikus said.
He added that the plant shutdown would likely occur about seven hours before landfall. If Rita maintains the forecast track, the hurricane would come ashore early Saturday somewhere between Corpus Christi and Galveston.
Customers will not lose power during the shutdown because other power companies will pick up the load, the spokesman said. The nuclear plant itself will operate off power from other companies for cooling the fuel supply and spent fuel storage, he added.
If the power grid fails, Mikus said, on-site diesel generators will provide back-up power to maintain the proper cooling. Asked his biggest concern with Rita headed toward the region, Mikus said, "I don't know if we have any."
He said the plant has a "safe shutdown condition" and was designed "to protect the safety of the public."
Bob Watts, the emergency management coordinator for Matagorda County, said he is confident the plant "will be on top of the situation."
The South Texas Project is the largest employer in the county, with about 1,300 workers. "Non-essential" workers are being asked not to come to work, and about 300 "essential" workers will ride out the storm at the plant, Mikus said.
Construction began at the plant in 1976, with the first reactor going into operation in 1988 and the second going online a year later. In addition to the 4-foot-thick walls of the containment buildings, each reactor is housed inside a carbon steel vessel with 6-inch-thick walls.
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