Texas has long been a leader in the energy industry; its abundance of fossil fuels and renewable sources generate electricity for the state and make substantial contributions to the Texas economy. Texas’ energy use is tied to its large population, hot climate and extensive industrial sector, and the state depends on reliable and affordable energy. One important source of energy for the state is nuclear power.
Nuclear fission is the process behind all operating nuclear power plants today. While nuclear fusion is being studied with the hopes of creating fusion reactors in coming decades, it is not yet a feasible option. The market-viable process, fission, is a reaction that breaks down a nucleus into two smaller nuclei, transitioning energy into both nuclear and thermal forms.1 Uranium became the standard fuel for this process because uranium nuclei can be more easily broken down than those of many other elements, and it can be mined in many places globally.2
In terms of known uranium deposits, about 1 percent are in the United States. Australia has 28 percent, followed by Kazakhstan (13 percent), Canada (10 percent), Russia (8 percent), Namibia (8 percent) and several others.3 As of 2022, Kazakhstan accounts for the most mining production, followed by Canada, Namibia and Australia.4 Additionally, the U.S. is the 12th largest producer of mined uranium product.5
U.S.-based uranium mining experienced a steep decline in 2019 to the point of near-shutdown. All but one mine was shuttered or pivoted to other products due to several factors; most notably, plummeting prices in the years following the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan.6 However, there are indications that mining will ramp up again as Energy Fuels, Inc., Uranium Energy Corporation and other companies research reopening and adding new mining sites.7
According to the International Energy Association, 10 percent of the world’s electricity is produced by 440 nuclear power plants.8 In the U.S., there are 54 power plants that contribute roughly 20 percent of electricity generation. Nuclear is the third most-used energy source behind natural gas and coal.9
In 2022, nuclear energy made up 10 percent of Texas’ total energy generation and is the fourth most-used energy source behind gas, wind and coal.10 The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) lists two Texas nuclear power plants in its U.S. Energy Atlas (September 2022). Each plant has two reactors. Combined, these plants have an installed capacity of 5,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity (Exhibit 1).
Texas Nuclear Power Plants, 2022
|Power Plant||Operator||County||MWe||Licensed MWt|
|Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, Reactor 1||Luminant Generation||Somervell||1,218||3,612|
|Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, Reactor 2||Luminant Generation||Somervell||1,207||3,612|
|South Texas Project, Reactor 1||STP Nuclear Operating Company||Matagorda||1,250.6||3,853|
|South Texas Project, Reactor 2||STP Nuclear Operating Company||Matagorda||1,250.6||3,853|
Sources: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; NuclearNewswire
Notes: MWe is the potential electricity generation of which the reactor is capable in megawatts. MWt refers to thermal (heat) output in megawatts.
Luminant Generation operates the Comanche Peak complex and is owned by Vistra Corporation based in Irving. Vistra is a public company that owns several energy production facilities across the U.S., including the world’s largest energy storage system in Moss Landing, California.11 Vistra will soon own three other nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, having announced in March 2023 a deal to acquire Energy Harbor, a power producer and retail energy supplier based in Ohio.12
The Comanche Peak complex employs more than 600 workers, plus several hundred contractors and technicians. It is a significant source of economic activity for Somervell County and is its largest taxpayer.13
The South Texas Project Electric Generation Station (STPEGS) is operated by the STP Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC), which is owned by three entities: NRG Energy (44 percent), city of San Antonio (CPS Energy, 40 percent) and city of Austin (Austin Energy, 16 percent).14 According to the American Nuclear Society, the STPNOC has about 1,200 employees.15
In 2022, there were 1,694 Texas jobs in the nuclear electric power generation industry, with average wages of $175,140. The industry contributed an estimated $1.4 billion in gross domestic product to the Texas economy, according to Chmura, a labor and economic market research and software firm.16 When considering nuclear energy jobs outside of the utilities sector, such as those in manufacturing, construction or professional services, the number of jobs jumps to more than 3,000.17
A new Texas plant in Seadrift is under development by Dow, a multinational company headquartered in Michigan, and X-Energy Reactor Company, LLC.18 The plant will be located on a manufacturing complex owned by Dow’s Union Carbide Corporation that provides key products to several industries.19 The proposed reactor is a small modular reactor (SMR) – one of the first operational SMRs in the U.S. for electricity production beyond academic and research uses.
Nuclear generation in Texas has been steady throughout the past decade, with peak generation occurring in 2016. In 2021, more than 40 million megawatt hours (MWh) of nuclear energy were generated, keeping with trends over the past few years (Exhibit 2) 20.
Annual Texas Nuclear Generation (MWh in millions)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
According to the Uranium Producers of America, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming have the most suitable uranium deposits for extraction.21 Each site has its own particular mineral mix. In Texas, most surveyed deposits are situated within the coastal plain and are sandstone-hosted. This accounts for 8 percent of known U.S. uranium.22
There are two broad types of uranium mining: open pit and in situ. In situ mining is the process of pushing fluid into the ground to dissolve minerals. Once the fluid is pumped back to the surface, a nearby or on-site facility processes the solution and extracts the uranium into a concentrated, transportable form.23 The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulates this process. According to TCEQ, it can be cleaner than pit mining as it does not disturb the surface of the land and, when done properly, there are protections in place to prevent harmful radiation leakage into the surrounding environment.24
From the 1960s to the 1990s, open pit mining was the norm, but in recent years, in situ has become more prevalent and currently is the only method licensed in Texas.25
Open pit mining and exploration drilling are regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). Regarding uranium exploration without mining, the RRC currently has 10 issued permits for drilling (Exhibit 3). These are for exploration only and are not for mining purposes.
Texas Uranium Exploration Permits
|124Q||South Texas Mining Venture||Duval|
|125P||EFR Alta Mesa, LLC||Brooks and Jim Hogg|
|142K||Uranium Energy Corp.||Goliad|
|150J||Uranium Energy Corp.||Bee|
|156A||URI, Inc.||Live Oak|
|157A||URI, Inc.||Live Oak|
|158A||URI, Inc.||Live Oak|
|159||URI, Inc.||Bee and Live Oak|
Source: Railroad Commission of Texas26
In situ uranium mining is slowly restarting in Texas after a long period of near dormancy that began in 1999. While there are plans for more sites, the permitting and construction processes of mining facilities can be lengthy. Moreover, there are different permitting requirements for the mine itself and the processing facility. TCEQ has seven active licenses for sites in Texas (Exhibit 4).
In Situ Uranium Mining Operations in Texas
|Burke Hollow Project (Bee County)||R06066||Uranium Energy Corp.||Fully permitted; Not yet operational|
|Goliad Project (Goliad County)||R06064||Uranium Energy Corp.||Fully permitted; Not yet operational|
|Hobson Processing Facility (Karnes County)||R03626||South Texas Mining Venture LLP (Uranium Energy Corp.)||Fully permitted; Not yet operational|
|La Palangana In Situ Recovery Project (Duval County)||R06062||South Texas Mining Venture LLP (Uranium Energy Corp.)||Fully permitted; Not yet operational|
|Alta Mesa Project (Brooks County)||R05360||enCore Alta Mesa LLC (enCore Energy Corp.)||Temporarily suspended (to resume in 2024)|
|Rosita (Duval County); Vasquez (Duval County); Kingsville Dome (Kleberg County) Projects||R03653||URI, Inc. (enCore Energy Corp.)||Temporarily suspended (to resume in late 2023)|
|Panna Maria Uranium Operations Project (Karnes County)||R06063||Rio Grande Resources Corporation||To be transferred to the Department of Energy for legacy management in 2024|
Sources: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Mining Data Online, NS Energy Business, the Newswire27
The enCore Energy Corporation is building out a hub of uranium production in South Texas with two projects:
The company also has recently acquired other sites for development, including Butler Ranch in Karnes County and previous drilling sites in Bee and Live Oak counties.29 In addition, the Kingsville Dome Processing Facility, while no longer running, acts as a buffer if needed for overflow of pumped uranium-rich solution.30
Uranium Energy Corporation is following a similar process with a central processing facility in Hobson and satellite mining sites at Burke Hollow and Palangana. The company has additional sites at Goliad and Salvo. (Goliad has experienced more recent measuring of uranium ore, but Salvo has had limited development.)31
The Panna Maria project site, currently owned by Rio Grande Resources Corporation, was a uranium recovery and processing station until it shut down in 1993. TCEQ and Rio Grande Resources Corporation are currently working to transfer the site to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) legacy management program.32 When the process is complete, DOE will fully manage the Panna Maria project site.
Nuclear energy is a major player in the current fuel mix of the Texas grid. However, several issues have limited its potential, especially during the past 20 years. Uranium mining, while never a prominent industry in Texas, nearly died out for a decade and is only now re-emerging, and nuclear energy production has remained steady but has had limited growth. These are some of the additional hurdles nuclear energy generation faces in Texas:
The future is strong for nuclear energy in Texas, especially with a third nuclear power complex coming online in Seadrift in the next few years. Furthermore, there is increasing attention on mining in the coastal plain, with extraction expected to begin again later this year. Growing local industry will help safeguard energy production from foreign interests and increase economic activity in the state.