Seventeen years ago, Texas turned on its last nuclear reactor, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth. In another decade, several more reactors could get built here — if events in Washington go the power companies' way.
Nuclear power now accounts for 14 percent of Texas's electricity usage (below the national average, 20 percent). The case for adding more reactors rests on a rising appetite for electricity sparked by a growing population and ever-proliferating gadgetry. And proponents point out that nuclear power, unlike coal or natural gas, is virtually free of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with global warming during its operations, although environmentalists strongly dispute the merits of the plants.
The federal government is moving ahead with a program that provides loan guarantees for the plants — a crucial step to placate financiers nervous about the economic risk of building them. Earlier this month, the Department of Energy agreed to a $3.4 billion guarantee for the expansion of a nuclear facility in Georgia, and the Obama administration recently asked Congress for more funds to help out more plants. Two proposed nuclear projects in Texas are high on the list of potential recipients.
"We're very serious about moving ahead," says Jeff Simmons, who is leading the development efforts to add two new reactors to the Comanche Peak plant in Glen Rose, near Fort Worth. The project is a joint venture between subsidiaries of Luminant, a big Texas power generator, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The companies are hoping to get a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of 2012 — a crucial green light for the plant.
Like deepwater oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, all it takes is one (screw-up) and you're done. And so are the rest of us.
But hey, there's lotsa jobs that need creatin', and more braggin' by Governor KieYoat to be done about the wunnerful Texas economy ...