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Nuclear Energy

Texas has two operating nuclear power facilities, Comanche Peak near Glen Rose and the South Texas Project in Matagorda County. But more facilities are planned. Owners of the South Texas Project have submitted an application to expand their facility. And over the next two years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects to receive applications for six more new nuclear reactors in Texas.

All U.S. commercial nuclear power plants use enriched uranium fuel pellets in their reactor cores. Texas’ two uranium mining companies produced more than one million pounds of yellowcake (mostly uranium oxide) in 2006, more than 35 percent of total U.S. production.106

Nuclear energy has among the cheapest fuel costs of any option for generating electricity. Nuclear plants, however, are extremely expensive (often costing more than $5 billion). Nuclear power produces no emissions, though critics fear the potential environmental impact of accidents at nuclear reactors.107 Disposal of high-level radioactive waste also is a concern. A number of factors including new technology, rising energy demand, higher natural gas costs and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions point to a renaissance for nuclear energy. However, both regulatory and economic hurdles must be overcome before the next generation of reactors comes online.

Cost

Per Million Btu (2005) $0.38 (nuclear fuel)108
Direct Subsidy Share of Total Consumer Spending Federal: 20.9 percent; State and Local: none.109
Notes The transportation of fuel assemblies by truck, rail, air or water entails additional costs. Electricity generation entails transmission costs. Spent fuel storage and disposal represents an additional cost. Nuclear energy’s subsidy share of total expenditures may increase since future plants are likely to qualify for additional tax credits and loan guarantees.

Economic Impact and Viability

Wages and Jobs Texas’ two commercial nuclear power plants employ more than 2,000 people with a combined payroll of nearly $200 million annually.110
Regulatory Climate The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sets standards and regulations for nuclear power plants and grants Combined Operating licenses (COLs) to qualifying facilities. The COL process is expected to take about three and a half years. Nuclear power plants also must obtain a wastewater permit from TCEQ, a process that usually takes about one year.111
Texas Competitive Advantage Texas has four operating reactors at two facilities, and the South Texas Project has submitted an application to expand its facility. Over the next two years, the NRC expects to receive applications for six more new nuclear reactors in Texas, two more at Comanche Peak and four at two new sites. These new reactors will require several thousand employees. Four of the 22 applications that NRC expects to receive for new nuclear power plants in the next few years are in Texas, more than any other state.112
Notes There are three companies with permits to mine uranium in Texas. Two are producing uranium and one has a mine in reclamation. A fourth company expects to be producing uranium by the end of 2008.

Availability and Current Infrastructure

Estimated Resources in Texas In 2003, Texas had an estimated 18 million tons of uranium ore, or about 4.2 percent of the nation’s uranium reserves. Texas’ reserves could be refined into about 23 million pounds of uranium oxide, which theoretically could produce enough fuel assemblies to generate electricity for more than 60 million homes.113
Current Fuel Production Texas’ two operational uranium mines produced more than 1 million pounds of yellowcake in 2006. This amount is equivalent to approximately 261.5 trillion Btu.114
Consumption in Texas Comanche Peak and the South Texas Project have a combined generating capacity of about 5,000 megawatts (MW). In 2006, nuclear energy supplied 10.3 percent of Texas’ electricity.115
Notes Some countries reprocess spent nuclear fuel, turning some waste into new reactor fuel. Currently, the U.S. does not reprocess nuclear waste, but research by the U.S. DOE is underway. Reprocessing nuclear fuel would extend the availability of nuclear fuel by hundreds of years.

Environment, Health and Safety

Greenhouse Gas Emissions No significant emissions.
Air Pollution (Non-Greenhouse Gas) No significant emissions.
Solid Waste Nuclear plants produce high-level radioactive waste. Currently, this waste is stored on site, either in containment pools or dry casks.
Land Use Land is required for plant sites and permanent waste disposal. Accidental radioactive releases, though unlikely, could have substantial effects on the natural environment.116
Water Withdrawal Depending upon the plant type, electricity generation from nuclear power requires withdrawals of between zero and 17,590 gallons per million Btu of heat produced.117
Water Consumption Depending upon the plant type, nuclear energy requires between zero and 211 gallons of water for each million Btu of heat energy produced.118
Water Quality Water is required for plant cooling. When discharged, this water is heated and can contain pollutants such as heavy metals, potentially harming aquatic life and reducing water quality, according to EPA. TCEQ regulates and permits these discharges. Uranium mining potentially could contaminate groundwater and surface water with heavy metals and traces of radioactive materials.119
Notes A permanent U.S. repository for radioactive waste being developed at Yucca Mountain, Nevada will begin accepting spent nuclear fuel no earlier than 2017.

Fuel Characteristics

Energy Content One uranium pellet weighing 0.24 ounces contains as much energy as almost 1,800 pounds of coal or more than 18 million Btu.120
Renewability Although uranium is technically a non-renewable fuel source, if waste were reprocessed, the availability of nuclear fuel could be extended by hundreds of years.

Other Issues

Dependence on Foreign Suppliers Canada is the world’s largest producer of uranium, supplying 25 percent of the world’s supply in 2006, while the U.S. produced only 4 percent.121
Price and Supply Risks The price of uranium oxide has risen 79 percent since 1994, reaching $18.61 per pound in 2006.122
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