Nuclear could be the crown jewel for Texas energy

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Traveling through Texas, it’s impossible to ignore the state’s rich energy legacy. Boasting a robust mix of fossil fuels and renewables, Texas is often hailed as the example of energy done right. Yet, between drill sites and wind farms, something is missing.
Despite Texas’ four nuclear reactors, which play a crucial role in providing 10% of the state’s electricity, endeavors to expand nuclear’s footprint have fallen short. Gov. Greg Abbott’s newfound interest may help bridge the gap.
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At the University of Texas in Austin last August, Abbott voiced support for small modular reactors, otherwise known as next-generation nuclear energy. Small modular reactors, commonly known as SMRs, are exactly what they sound like: smaller nuclear reactors. What sets SMRs apart is their ability to generate around 300 megawatts of energy, tailored to power smaller neighborhoods and communities independently. Costs for these smaller reactors are also dramatically lower. Companies like Oklo and TerraPower are leading the charge in developing various SMR designs, promising significantly lower costs and enhanced safety features.
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Additionally, SMRs will be far easier to deploy than traditional reactors. After all, they can be mass-produced in factories and then placed where power is needed. SMRs also have the potential to turn retired coal plants into clean energy facilities, reviving communities that once flourished due to coal. Even better, by using existing coal infrastructure, SMR costs drop by 35%. Texas could be the site of the SMR revolution, bringing jobs and economic prosperity to communities across the state.
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Deploying this technology in Texas could have a massive impact not only on energy security and emissions reductions but also on energy reliability. Nuclear energy is the most reliable source of energy and proved its worth during the historic cold snap in 2021 when a winter storm wreaked havoc on Texas’ power grid. Studies on nuclear energy during extreme weather show that the energy source is incredibly resilient.
Importantly, nuclear energy is gaining popularity among the American people, after decades of fearmongering and disinformation stifled the industry in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. Last year, support for nuclear energy in the United States reached 55%, and data shows that the closer people live to a nuclear power plant, the more they support the energy source. Young Americans — conservatives especially — see nuclear energy as an integral part of our energy mix and do not share their elders’ concerns.
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The benefits of nuclear power are clear and abundant. However, significant challenges persist, particularly in regulatory frameworks. The absence of a federal regulatory track for SMRs complicates the approval process, making it time-consuming and costly. What’s needed now is commonsense permitting reform to ensure this promising innovation can be realized. While Texas can’t fix this problem on its own, there are ways that state regulators can encourage the development of SMRs in the state.
Texas’ comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach to energy has proved successful, maintaining its dominance in traditional energy sectors while embracing clean energy innovation. Ushering in a nuclear era will only strengthen the rich energy legacy of the Lone Star State.
Danielle Butcher Franz is the chief executive officer of the American Conservation Coalition. Follow her on X @DanielleBFranz.
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