South Texas is hotbed for nuclear fuel, USGS says

Part of the containment vessel for a new nuclear reactor at the Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant is under construction in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

South Texas may have enough underground uranium resources to meet the nation’s nuclear power needs for about five years, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The federal study found the region has about 60 million pounds of identified, but unmined, uranium oxide supply, and more than 200 million pounds of newly estimated undiscovered resources.

The uranium oxide is located in sandstone formations throughout the South Texas coastal area nearer the Gulf of Mexico. The area already has two active mines with companies actively exploring for uranium.

“As the world’s leader in nuclear power, uranium is both a critically and strategically important resource,” said Larry Meinert, program coordinator of the USGS Mineral Resources Program, in the announcement. “Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.”

The USGS said the identified 60 million pounds of uranium resources could provide up to a year of the nation’s nuclear fuel requirements. The 200 million pounds of undiscovered estimates would add another four years of nuclear fuel.

Texas has two nuclear power plants: the South Texas Nuclear Project southwest of Houston owned by NRG Energy, CPS Energy and Austin Energy, and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant southwest of Fort Worth owned by Dallas-based Luminant.

U.S. nuclear power plants generate about 19 percent of the nation’s electricity. The United States has more nuclear plants than any other country, but more than 90 percent of their uranium is imported.

American nuclear plants last year bought 53 million pounds of uranium oxide to meet their needs, and U.S. nuclear capacity is expected to increase.

However, there are only a small amount of nuclear power plant projects moving forward in the nation because cheap and abundant natural gas in Texas and elsewhere has disadvantaged nuclear and coal-fired power plants.

The new study is part of a larger USGS effort to update the locations and amounts of the nation’s uranium resources. The USGS collaborated with the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology on the South Texas assessment.