The operating licenses for one of Texas’ two large-scale nuclear plants generating civilian-used power are being considered for a 20-year extension by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Comanche Peak, the two-reactor nuclear plant in Glen Rose that serves as baseload power for the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, can generate up to 2,538 megawatts at once; that is enough to power more than 500,000 homes during peak hours.
Operating permits for the two reactors expire in 2030 and 2033, respectively. Vistra Corp., the energy company that owns Comanche Peak, applied for 20-year extensions for each. The application also includes renewal of licenses to handle the radioactive byproduct of the generation.
On January 10, the NRC will convene a public meeting at the Somervell County Expo Center in Glen Rose to review the application and question power plant officials. The plant units each contain one “four-loop, pressurized light-water reactor” that operates by splitting uranium atoms by striking them with neutrons — a process known as “fission” — creating heat to produce steam that turns a turbine and generates electricity.
An official with the NRC told The Texan the entire process usually takes about 22 months and this application is set for a final decision in September 2024. The meeting next week will include a public comment period from noon to 1:00 p.m. followed by a more formal proceeding from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. that includes a presentation from the plant’s staff, a question-and-answer period, and more time to collect comment. Another session will occur in the evening.
The NRC officials said that the agency will be evaluating the environmental impact statement required with the application; from the public, they wish to hear feedback on potential issues that should be considered and any potential alternatives that might be floated.
“Comanche Peak is one of the lowest-cost and highest-performing nuclear power plants in the country and is a large, dispatchable source of carbon-free electricity,” said Jim Burke, president and CEO of Vistra, in a statement back in October. “Renewing the licenses of this plant is critical for grid reliability and our environment and is a benefit to the economy, the local community, and our company.”
Across the U.S., there are 53 nuclear power plants in operation, two of which are in Texas — Comanche Peak in Glen Rose and the South Texas Power Plant in Bay City.
A group of citizens is organizing to register their opposition to the extension with the agency, per a release that states, “If the NRC approves the license extension, deadly radioactive waste could be generated for another 20 years, increasing accident and contamination risks.”
One of those organizing the opposition is former state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), a longtime critic of nuclear power for both the way it’s produced and the waste it generates.
Between 25 and 30 people are expected to attend, most from the Dallas-Fort Worth area but also some from South Texas.
“I told those coming that we are not the ones answering questions here, we’re the ones doing the questioning,” Burnam told The Texan. “We need a complete public hearing and a complete review of this thing’s life expectancy.”
Burnam sees nuclear power, and Comanche Peak specifically, as unsafe in large part due to the waste it produces and how it’s handled. Last year, the Texas Legislature banned the interim storage of high-level radioactive waste in the state — a law aimed at an Andrews County storage facility already in operation, storing low-level radioactive waste. High-level waste refers to the spent nuclear fuel used at the center of the entire process.
Texas has sued the NRC over the facility’s prospective permit and the case is currently in front of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The long-planned permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has lingered in development for decades as Congress continuously has failed to finalize a plan for the project.
Both nuclear power plants in Texas store spent nuclear fuel on-site in dry casks.
Burnam said that he and others plan to intervene in the administrative case considering the extensions — a process similar to the one that played out in San Augustine County wherein residents successfully torpedoed a permit application for an oil and gas waste dump site.
The Tuesday hearing is the beginning of a long process to consider extension of the plant’s operation and all that entails, in positive and negative externalities.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.