Abbott Explores Value of Small Nuclear Reactors

South Texas Project Electric Generating Station
The South Texas Project Electric Generating Station southwest of Houston. | Image by Jennifer Whitney/The Texas Tribune

In a move aimed at addressing Texas’ growing energy demands, Gov. Greg Abbott has expressed continued interest in exploring the viability and value of small nuclear reactors.

This new initiative departs from the state’s traditional touting of fossil fuels and mainstream renewable energy sources. However, some maintain that pursuing smaller nuclear reactors as an energy solution could revolutionize the state’s energy supply while addressing concerns about reliability and environmental impact, according to The Texas Tribune.

Abbott seemed to encourage a focus on nuclear energy during a fireside chat event at the University of Texas at Austin last year, where he joined industry leaders to discuss the potential benefits of small modular reactors (SMRs).

At the event, the governor announced a directive to Public Utilities Commission of Texas interim chair Kathleen Jackson “to formulate a working group to study and provide recommendations that will position Texas as the national leader on advanced nuclear energy,” per a press release.

Unlike conventional nuclear power plants, which have faced host site and public perception hurdles, SMRs offer a more compact and scalable alternative that proponents argue is safer and more cost-effective.

“We’re going to be studying and evaluating the reliability, the safety of nuclear power,” Abbott said, per The Texas Tribune. “And, if it passes all the tests, we will be looking to dramatically expand nuclear power in the state of Texas.”

One of the purported advantages of SMRs is their ability to provide on-demand power, addressing a critical need highlighted by the state’s energy debacle during the 2021 winter storm.

While nuclear power is not new to Texas, with four large reactors currently in operation, the prospect of smaller, more flexible reactors presents a unique opportunity for expansion. As of 2024, Texas hosts two nuclear power plants that possess the potential for further expansion. Given the state’s growing population and thriving economy, nuclear power could emerge as a favorable investment option, according to Texas Monthly.

Companies like X-energy are at the forefront of the push, with plans to build SMRs for industrial applications along the Texas coast, per The Texas Tribune.

Texas currently operates two nuclear power plants equipped with two reactors. The newer facility, Comanche Peak, situated west of Dallas, commenced operations in 1993. Since then, nuclear power generation in the state has not expanded much further.

These two plants, the other being the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station located southwest of Houston, collectively generate approximately 5,000 megawatts of electricity. This output accounts for roughly 10% of Texas’ total energy requirements, according to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

However, considering the potential decommissioning of both plants in the 2030s, the state may need to seek alternative sources to meet its energy demands. Public perception of nuclear power may also present a significant hurdle, fueled in part by high-profile accidents such as Chornobyl and Fukushima, per The Texas Tribune. Further concerns about the long-term storage of nuclear waste also persist.

However, the Pew Research Center reported, “A majority of Americans (57%) say they favor more nuclear power plants to generate electricity in the country.”

Despite reservations, with the support of state policymakers and industry leaders, Texas could emerge as a pioneer in developing and deploying small nuclear reactors, shaping the future of energy not only in the Lone Star State but across the nation.

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