Photo Credit: Jessica Rockowitz

As one of the leading producers of nuclear power in the United States, Texas stands to gain more than most states from a pro-nuclear policy agenda. How so? First, expanding nuclear power generated within Texas will allow its natural gas producers to seize export opportunities while enabling America’s citizens and allies to meet their energy needs. New Texas nuclear power, moreover, can end volatile swings in electricity prices for businesses and families, while creating well-paying jobs and reducing carbon emissions. Finally, embracing new nuclear reactors will allow Texas to continue to lead the world in energy policy and innovation.

What exactly might this new nuclear policy agenda entail? First, the Texas legislature should remove any self-imposed statutory barriers to the construction of new small modular reactors (SMRs). Most SMRs use a variation of the same reliable design in Texas’ existing reactors. However, these smaller reactor designs will enable manufacturers to produce reactors at a lower and more standardized cost, which reduces the risk of cost overruns for new projects. Additionally, each SMR houses a fraction of the amount of radioactive material than larger, traditional light water reactors, making them safer than ever. American nuclear reactors already boast an unparalleled safety record: zero radiation-related deaths in their operating history. While ten American nuclear workers have been killed in workplace accidents since the opening of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in 1958, there were 11 coal mining deaths and 22 oil and gas extraction deaths in 2019 alone. Nuclear power is safe power.

The signs are encouraging. In January, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved an SMR design by NuScale—a company working to bring SMRs to market—marking the first commercial SMR design to win approval in the United States. Texas already has operational micro research reactors. The University of Texas has a one megawatt Training, Research, Isotope, General Atomics reactor, known as TRIGA. And now Abilene Christian University–in concert with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M, the University of Texas, and Natura Resources– has submitted an application to the NRC to build a new molten salt research reactor. These projects all confirm Texas’ position as a global leader in energy innovation and will support the training of the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers.

By taking an aggressive pro-nuclear stance, Texas can reduce volatility in electricity prices for businesses and families in the future. Uranium–the fuel used in most nuclear reactors–can be easily and safely stored, enabling it to be purchased and amassed when its price is low. The plants themselves need to be refueled only once every 18 to 24 months. At the margin, this relative price stability gives Texas-based companies greater ability to plan for the future, knowing that they are less vulnerable to massive swings in global energy markets. Additionally, Texas’ natural gas producers can export more natural gas and profit from the shortsightedness in other states and countries with respect to nuclear power.

Texas energy exports have become more vital in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Germany serving as a case in point. After shuttering most of its nuclear power capacity, Germany now uses more coal to meet its short-term energy needs, the exact opposite of the aspirations of their Energiewende plan. In addition to burning more coal, Germany is building expensive new natural gas import terminals to ensure it has the infrastructure required to support energy needs in the coming years. Similarly, Texas companies are building new export terminals to meet rising global demand. Germany should follow Texas’ lead on nuclear energy for a cleaner future by keeping existing plants online and investing in new ones. In the meantime, Texan natural gas can keep German lights on and reduce their rising rate of emissions.

Removing unnecessary barriers for companies to build new nuclear plants will also allow Texans to capitalize on the relevant incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The Clean Electricity Production federal tax credit allows for qualifying plants to receive 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of operation. This tax credit also has the potential to benefit communities which have struggled in the wake of local coal plant closings. Siting small modular reactors alongside former coal plants qualifies them for a subsidy of 1.65 cents per kilowatt-hour produced. Six Texas coal plants have shuttered in the past five years and more are scheduled to close. New nuclear plants will create well-paying jobs while giving everyone dependent on Texas’ grid access to more reliable baseload power.

While the Texas legislature is in session, lawmakers should scour Texas law and remove any self-imposed barriers or legal uncertainty for NRC-approved SMRs to operate in the state. When necessary, Texas state regulators should cooperate with companies and federal regulators to resolve any remaining federal regulatory uncertainty and streamline approvals. This proactivity will allow Texans to benefit from the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act and enable greater natural gas exports both abroad and to other states. Texas will continue to be a haven for businesses and families seeking refuge from the rising cost of living and excessive bureaucracy. Choosing to support nuclear power is a clear way for Texas to play to its strengths as America’s energy powerhouse and pursue a differentiated policy agenda that preserves the American dream.