Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant still pumping power after 25 years

Todd Unger takes you inside one of only two nuclear power plants in the state.

SOMERVELLE COUNTY – Construction started in the mid-1970s on 10,000-acre site outside of Glen Rose, Texas.

In 1990, the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Power Plant finally plugged into the grid, and has been producing power for millions of Texans ever since.

And while much of the attention paid to the energy industry in recent years has been on the natural gas boom, or renewable sources like wind and solar power, Comanche is still thriving.

"It doesn't really get old to drive into work and see the two containment buildings," Lauren Neuberger said.

The engineer is in her mid-20s, and has a keen interest on developing a long career at the plant.

"We need things like wind and hydro, but nuclear needs to provide that baseload, and we're realizing that," she said.

News 8 got a rare look deep inside the plant, including an up-close look at the containment buildings which encase the twin reactors.

The control room, where a staff of about a dozen constantly monitors conditions inside the reactors, is run by the facility's top-notch workers. Analog technology is still used throughout the room.

Mike Stakes is the plant's director of maintenance. He is one of more than 200 employees who has worked there since opening day.

He provided us access into the facility's spent fuel rod room.

"If you go from one nuclear plant to the next, they're going to all have a spent fuel pool," he said.

The plant routinely powers more close to 1.15 million households.

During the visit, it was all-hands-on-deck as Unit 2 was preparing to be temporarily taken offline. Each reactor is taken offline every 18 months, according to Chief Nuclear Officer Rafael Flores.

"It's an important part of what we do," he said. The process allows fuel to be reloaded.

Flores has been at the plant for decades. He was part of a U.S. delegation that was sent to Japan following the Fukishima nuclear disaster in 2011. He says part of what they learned there was the need for a "contingency plan to back up the contingency plan."

For example, if emergency equipment and personnel were to become disabled during an "event" at Comanche, plans have been put in place that would rush in other equipment and people from Phoenix and Memphis within hours.

"You can't have a tsunami at Comanche peak, but you can have a tornado," he said. "It's important to be prepared."

The plant has 15 years remaining on its license with the Nuclear Regularity Commission. They will soon apply for a 20-year extension, part of what Flores says is a push to the future.

But plans for two more reactors — first filed with the NRC more than seven years ago — are now on hold as Luminant, the plant's owner, watches the ever-changing energy market.

Workers like Neuberger say they are planning for the future.

"I think it would be remiss to not think about what the day-to-day of your actions can bring," she said.

For more information on Luminant's celebration of 25 years of the Comanche Peak plant, click here.


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