Texas Becoming a Nuclear Powerhouse
Expansions on the horizon for South Texas Project, Comanche Peak
STP has the lowest production cost reported by nuclear power plants nationwide, at 1.356 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2006. STPS’s combined operating, maintenance and fuel expenses were the lowest among plants that report those costs to federal regulators.
Texas’ bond with nuclear power is strong and expected to strengthen in the next decade. In the next two years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) could receive applications for two more reactors at Comanche Peak, near Glen Rose, and four more at two new sites in Texas. The South Texas Project (STP) has already submitted an application for expansion of its Matagorda County facility. Prior to that, no new applications had been submitted to the NRC for 29 years.
Strength in Numbers
According to the Texas Comptroller’s Energy Report, Comanche Peak and STP currently produce about 10 percent of the state’s electricity.
Comanche Peak has two reactors with a net generating capacity of 2,300 megawatts. TXU reports that the Comanche Peak operation paid $24.4 million in property taxes and $100 million in payroll in 2006.
The South Texas Project, located 90 miles southwest of Houston, has two reactors with a net generating capacity of 2,700 megawatts. STP Units 3 and 4 will generate more than 2,600 megawatts and with the current facility, produce enough power for more than 3 million Texas homes. Construction of the two new units will cost more than $6 billion and will create more than 4,000 construction jobs during the peak period. Once operational, the facility will create 800 permanent jobs.
STP began operations in 1988 and is the largest employer in Matagorda County. According to a 2006 economic impact study prepared by the Perryman Group, the new nuclear units could create $9 billion in economic activity and more than 5,500 jobs statewide.
Fueling the Community
The South Texas Project (STP) is operated by the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC), which is owned by NRG Texas LLC (44 percent), CPS Energy (40 percent) and Austin Energy (16 percent). STPNOC has an annual payroll of $96 million for 1,150 employees. Hourly wages at South Texas average $31. Hourly employees earn an average of $64,000 annually without overtime. The average annual salary for other employees is $94,000.
A Nuke Generation
Finding a younger generation to fill up to 2,000 new jobs in the next 10 years and hundreds more existing ones, as the Boomer generation retires, is a challenge. But it is one that Texas A&M University’s Nuclear Power Institute hopes to meet.
A collaboration between the Dwight Look College of Engineering and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), the institute will provide workers with sophisticated skills. Look College is one of the largest engineering colleges in the nation, with nearly 9,000 students and 12 departments. School officials believe the institute will make a significant contribution to the work force and state and national economy.
Uranium Deposits in Texas
There are five uranium-bearing formations in Texas, all located in the South. These are:
- Fleming and Oakville
- Jackson Group
- Claiborne Group
Source: Texas Mining and Reclamation Association and Bureau of Economic Geology
“We’re really operating in a whole new way,” says Lee Peddicord, director for the TEES and senior associate dean for research and professor of nuclear engineering. “The challenge is to have a partnership with partners who have never worked together before, but I believe that challenge will be a success.”
Of the 800 new employees needed for the STP expansion, about 50 of those will be nuclear engineers. The rest will be technicians with two-year degrees and engineers in other specialties. And finding those workers is where the challenge lies. Peddicord and others are going to area high schools and junior highs to recruit students for a nuclear energy career path. In February, STP upped the ante by unveiling its $4 million educational incentive program, which will in the next five years pay for college classes taken by potential STP employees. In addition to all tuition and fees, the company would pay a $200 monthly stipend to up to 60 students earning an associate’s degree in nuclear technology. Those students would also participate in paid summer internships.
The Texas Workforce Commission is working with these utilities to create the Texas Nuclear Workforce Development Initiative, a grant program encouraging universities, community colleges and the Texas State Technical College to recruit young people into two-year and four-year programs to prepare them for jobs in the new plants.
Where it Begins: The Mines
The Energy Report also examines the other facets of the nuclear industry including uranium mining. Mesteña Uranium, L.L.C. and Uranium Resources, Inc. (URI) are producing uranium; another company, COGEMA Mining, has a mine in reclamation; and a fourth company, South Texas Mining Venture, expects to be producing uranium by the end of this year.
Mesteña officials reported that the Alta Mesa project produced more than 1 million pounds of yellowcake, a refined uranium ore, in 2006. URI processes uranium at Kingsville Dome in Kleberg County and mines uranium at its Vasquez property in Duval County. URI reported that the two mines combined produced 260,000 pounds of yellowcake in 2006. There are plans to recommence mining and processing at a Rosita facility in northern Duval County this year.
South Texas Mining Venture has submitted an area permit application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for ISL mining at its La Palangana site in Duval County. Officials there expect to have all necessary permits by the fourth quarter of 2008, with production beginning by the end of the year. FN
Uranium Roll Front
Uranium is very soluble in water. As water percolates through a source rock or sediments, uranium is dissolved and flows downhill. When the water comes into contact with a “reducing environment” containing chemical compounds such as coal, oil and gas or sulfides, the uranium precipitates from the solution and is deposited in an ore body called a “roll front.”
Source: Texas Mining and Reclamation Association
For more information on the South Texas Project expansion, visit www.stpnoc.com.