Texas governor touts nuclear at UT fireside chat

August 23, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (right) talks nuclear energy at UT-Austin on August 16. With Abbott are X-energy chief executive officer Clay Sell (left) and Dow chair and CEO Jim Fitterling. (Photo: Office of the Texas Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sat down with X-energy chief executive officer Clay Sell and Dow chair and CEO Jim Fitterling last week for a “fireside chat” at the University of Texas–Austin on the role of nuclear energy and technology in the state.

The August 16 discussion, moderated by Dale Klein, professor at the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering at UT-Austin and former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, drew 70 attendees.

“Texas is the energy capital of the world, but more important is what we are doing with that energy and what it means for our future in the state of Texas,” said Abbott. “Very important to our state is how we use energy to generate power for our grid. For a state that continues to grow massively, we are at the height of our production during the day, and we generate more power than California and New York combined. But we need more dispatchable power generation. One thing we are looking at with a keen eye is the ability to expand our capabilities with regard to nuclear generated power.”

Currently, Texas is home to a pair of nuclear plants: two pressurized water reactors at Comanche Peak and two PWRs at the South Texas Project. Together, the facilities are capable of generating 4,926 MWe of power.

Study time: During the UT event, Abbott announced a directive to Public Utilities Commission of Texas interim chair Kathleen Jackson to form a working group to study and provide recommendations to position the state as the national leader on advanced nuclear energy. According to the directive, to maximize power grid reliability, the group will work to understand Texas’s role in deploying and using advanced reactors, consider potential financial incentives available, determine nuclear-specific changes needed in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) market, identify any federal or state regulatory hurdles to development, and analyze how Texas can streamline and speed up advanced reactor construction permitting.

Abbott also directed the group to coordinate with ERCOT to begin addressing the technical challenges of incorporating advanced nuclear technology into the ERCOT grid.

The directive gives a deadline of December 1, 2024, for submission of the group’s plan and recommendations to the governor’s office.

In case you missed it: Dow and X-energy announced in May that they had selected Dow’s UCC Seadrift Operations manufacturing site in Texas as the location for their Xe-100 small modular reactor deployment project. According to a May 11 joint news release, the SMR plant will provide the Seadrift complex with power and heat as its existing energy and steam assets near the end of their operational lives.

Located on the Gulf Coast about 145 miles southeast of San Antonio, the Seadrift site covers 4,700 acres and manufactures more than 4 million pounds of materials per year used across a wide variety of applications, including food packaging and preservation, footwear, wire and cable insulation, solar cell membranes, and packaging for medical and pharmaceutical products.

The companies said they expect the project to reduce the Seadrift site’s emissions by approximately 440,000 metric tons CO2 equivalent per year. Construction on the four-unit project is expected to begin in 2026 and be completed by the end of this decade.

X-energy’s Xe-100 unit is an 80-MWe high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor that can be scaled into a four-pack 320-MWe power plant. As a pebble-bed HTGR, it would use TRISO particles encased in graphite pebbles as fuel and helium as coolant.

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