NUCLEAR POWERSmall Nuclear Reactors May Be Coming to Texas, Boosted by Interest from Gov. Abbott

By Emily Foxhall

Published 27 March 2024

A nuclear power plant hasn’t been built in Texas in decades because of cost and public fears of a major accident. Now the governor wants to find out if smaller reactors could meet the state’s growing need for on-demand power.

Gov. Greg Abbott took the stage at the University of Texas at Austin last August to discuss building up an energy source in the state. Unlike the oil and gas industry that Abbott often promotes, this fuel could create reliable power without also pumping pollution into the air.

Abbott was there to talk about nuclear power — not big reactors like the ones that already operate in Texas, but a new generation of smaller nuclear reactors that companies are pitching as both safe and less financially risky than large nuclear power plants because they cost less.

Abbott joined a panel with the CEO of chemical and plastics manufacturer Dow and the head of a newer business, called X-energy, which plans to build small nuclear reactors for Dow. The reactors will produce steam and electricity for the company’s complex just up the coast from Corpus Christi.

“We’re going to be studying and evaluating the reliability, the safety of nuclear power,” Abbott announced to the crowd. “And, if it passes all the tests, we will be looking to dramatically expand nuclear power in the state of Texas.”

These downsized reactors offer a possible solution, in Abbott’s view, to the woes of the state’s main electric grid. The grid’s vulnerabilities were exposed during a 2021 winter storm when subfreezing temperatures knocked power plants offline; millions of people went without power or heat for days and at least 200 people died. The grid’s near collapse became a political nightmare for Abbott.

After that disaster, some energy industry experts said part of the state’s problem was that it lacked enough on-demand power — meaning power that can come on anytime. The state increasingly relies on solar farms that only work when the sun shines, and wind turbines that only turn when the wind blows. Companies have been building a lot of both in Texas over the past decade.

Texas legislators last year passed new incentives to try to get more gas-fueled power built to meet that desire for more on-demand electricity. Small nuclear power could fill the same role.

Nuclear power isn’t new to Texas, where four large reactors have fed the electric grid for decades. Two operate southwest of Fort Worth. Another pair runs southwest of Houston, near Matagorda Bay. The plants accounted for about 9% of electricity produced on the state’s main electric grid last year.