The Lone Star and the atom: Nuclear energy in Texas, 1945-1993



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Texas Tech University


Nuclear energy, since its inception in 1945, has been one the United States' most controversial technologies. Even before the well-publicized incidences at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear projects encountered a variety of problems and obstacles that decreased their cost-effectiveness. Nuclear power, as time progressed, transformed from a possible answer to the world's energy needs into an economic, social, and political nightmare for many people and regions.

The experience of Texas with nuclear energy was no different. This dissertation is the first in-depth study of the development of nuclear power in the Lone Star State. In Texas, utilities did not implement nuclear power until the early 1970s, much later than in many other areas of the country. Because of the state's abundant natural resources, utilities did not foresee an immediate need for alternative energy. The increases in energy requirements in the 1960s created a sudden surge in interest in nuclear power. Texas utilities rushed to develop nuclear projects, but, in doing so, failed to consider many of the unique characteristics of nuclear power.

Utilities completed two nuclear projects in Texas: the Comanche Peak Steam Electric Station, near Fort Worth and owned by Texas Utilities, Inc., and the South Texas Project, near Houston and owned by the partnership of Houston Lighting & Power, Central Power & Light, and the cities of San Antonio and Austin. Both projects encountered lengthy delays and tremendous cost overruns. Anti-nuclear activists, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and consumer advocates opposed the projects because of safety and financial concerns. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued numerous citations and fines against the projects and, in both cases, came near to canceling the troubled projects.

Despite the problems, the owners of Comanche Peak and South Texas persisted in their attempts to implement nuclear power. By the time the projects reached completion, nuclear energy was, however, no longer cost effective nor considered safe by many citizens. After nearly twenty years of construction and licensing, the two nuclear facilities were two of the costliest plants in American history.



U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Comanche Peak Steam Electric Station, Houston Lighting & Power Company, Nuclear energy, Nuclear reactors, Nuclear power plants, Texas Public Utility Commission, Electric utilities