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UTPB, private company to push for advanced reactor - Odessa American: Business

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UTPB, private company to push for advanced reactor

X-energy explores long-sought nuclear project

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Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2016 5:45 am

A private company is exploring whether to build the sort of small-scale nuclear reactor in Ector County sought for years by the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, with executives planning to scout the area next week.

Maryland-based X-energy specializes in high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, facilities previously built in other countries such as China and Germany but so far without a counterpart in the United States.

The reactors operate on what are called “pebble” fuel, or pieces of uranium wrapped in graphite and cooled by inert helium gas that company officials describe as more efficient than traditional facilities. Officials say the zero-emission reactors do not have to halt during refueling periods and they do not require water to cool it, eliminating the threat of meltdown.

Eben Mulder, X-energy’s chief nuclear officer, said the company was drawn to Ector County because of the university’s previous work and community support for such a project. Mulder said company officials plan to visit next week to explore potential industrial customers for energy products like steam and heated helium the reactor would produce and to scout potential sites.

In the meantime, UTPB officials will brief the Odessa Development Corporation 2 p.m. today at City Hall on the company’s plan with the idea of possibly asking the ODC to help find a site for a facility.

“The process itself depends on a number of things,” Mulder said. “If we get down there and we decide this makes sense and we get the right sort of levels of interest I think it can happen pretty quickly — in nuclear parlance I should say.”

Winning regulatory approval for the plant, along with designing and building it, could take years, Mulder said. But there would likely be incremental work such as smaller test facilities along the way.

He said the facility could contain up to four units on land the size of a football field, each producing about 80 megawatts of electricity and 200 megawatts of thermal energy.

UTPB officials presenting plans today to the ODC include Jim Wright, UTPB’s director of the Office for Regional Economic Development in Energy. Wright said previous efforts to build a similar reactor in Andrews County fell apart because of a lack of federal regulatory support.

Wright said X-energy’s $1 billion-plus investment would be a boon to the county but that UTPB’s nuclear engineering program would benefit from having such a facility close by.

“This is going to be what’s in the future,” Wright said, describing the technology as safe. “The educational component is the nuclear engineering program here will be right next to the (Department of Energy) demonstration facility for the technology of the future. . . We will be the only site in the U.S. that has this technology. Period.”

In January, the DOE announced a $40 million award to X-energy to develop the high temperature gas cooled-reactor, known as the Xe-100. Mulder said the company would supplement the grant with about $13 million in investor funding.

Last month, the company announced an agreement to with the utility Southern Nuclear Operating Company to work together commercializing and deploying the Xe-100.

“We believe it is a nuclear sustainable solution,” Mulder said, adding later that “when I talk about nuclear sustainability I’m talking about cost, safety, proliferation resistance, emissions and security of supply — long term.”

IN OTHER BUSINESS, THE ODC WILL:

  • Consider approving minutes from the Aug. 11 meeting.
  • Discuss a contract with economist Ray Perryman for target industry analysis.
  • Consider resolutions related to Select Energy Services and FMC Technologies.
  • Review financial and investment reports and updates from contracting agencies.

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