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Officials: Largest nuclear power plant in U.S. equipped for emergencies

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Facts about the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station:

-It has been the largest power producer of any kind in the U.S. since 1992.
-About 4 million people in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas receive power generated by the Palo Verde plant.
-It is capable of generating nearly 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

-It has been operating since 1986.

-It is located about 50 miles west of Phoenix in Tonopah, Ariz.

-APS owns 29.1 percent of the plant.

PHOENIX – Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station features stronger containment domes than the Japanese plant damaged by a tsunami, has multiple sources of backup power and has enough water on hand to cool its reactors for a year, plant officials told the Arizona Corporation Commission on Tuesday.

In addition, said Randall Edington, the plant’s executive vice president and chief nuclear officer, Palo Verde has extensive safety procedures in place if there were an emergency such as an act of terrorism.

“It is our mission to safely and efficiently generate electricity for the long term,” he said.

Commissioners Bob Stump and Paul Newman called for the hearing as officials in Japan continued trying to prevent a disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where primary and backup cooling systems failed following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Palo Verde, which Arizona Public Service runs on behalf of several power companies, is located about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix. The largest nuclear power plant in the U.S., it supplies electricity to about 4 million customers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

Lee Allison, the state geologist and director for the Arizona Geological Survey, told the commission that Palo Verde’s location, including not having active faults nearby, sets it apart from the plant in Japan.

“There is low seismic activity in Arizona, and the chance of having a tsunami occur near the plant is very unlikely,” he said.

Palo Verde was built to withstand even the strongest shaking from the nearest faults, which are in California and southwestern Arizona, he said.

“The plant was built to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake,” Allison said.

Stump said plant officials answered his questions, including how Palo Verde’s backup power systems work and how the plant stores nuclear waste.

“I felt it was critical that we revisit some of the emergency procedures at the Palo Verde in light of the tragedy in Japan so that the public can be reassured that Palo Verde is in fact safe, and so that potentially we can learn from the tragedy in Japan and potentially improve safety procedures if necessary,” he said.

Diane E. Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, acknowledged efforts to prevent emergencies at Palo Verde but told commissioners that the risk of something going wrong remains.

“Our main concern is that nuclear power plants are not immune to human errors, mechanical failures, natural disaster or losses of critical power supplies, and that inherently nuclear energy is dangerous and could result in an disaster,” she said later in a telephone interview.

Brown’s group released a report Tuesday raising concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste and highlighting citations that Palo Verde has received from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She said the federal government should freeze construction of new reactors and stop re-licensing older plants until safety concerns have been addressed.

“We would be much better off raising up our commitment in Arizona to energy efficiency and renewable energy, which aren’t going to result in public health or environmental damage,” she said.