The Odessa Development Corporation approved a $40,000 award to the University of Texas of the Permian Basin to study the economics of building a small-scale nuclear reactor in Ector County as a private company explores whether to build such a facility in the area.
The grant will pay for costs of a conference planned for the first week of October, including travel costs for regulators and other officials. The funds will also support salary and travel costs for Jim Wright, UTPB’s director of the Office for Regional Economic Development in Energy, through November.
Wright is tasked with developing a business plan in hopes of drawing the company to the Odessa area. That plan will in part seek to identify potential industrial customers for energy products like steam and heated helium the reactor would produce, along with potential sites.
“We’ll have a team looking at all aspects of it,” Wright said. “Where do you site it? How do you site it?”
The ODC board voted unanimously to approve the grant, 4-0, with board member Mario Contreras absent. The board held a special meeting to approve the award so the Odessa City Council can consider ratifying it on Tuesday and releasing the funds in time for the conference, which was rescheduled from earlier this month.
“In the event that you decide that the project is no longer worth supporting after this additional allocation, should you choose to make it, then that will be the end of it,” UTPB President David Watts told the ODC board Wednesday. “However, I think it still has viability. . . It will be located some place, and Odessa has a reputation for being open to new technologies, innovative technologies, and would be able to consider Odessa competition for this type of technology with your support.”
The company, Maryland-based X-energy, specializes in high-temperature gas-cooled reactors that operate on so 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.
The United States has no reactor of that kind, but others have been built in countries such as China and Germany.
Winning regulatory approval for the plant, along with designing and building it, could take years. But company officials previously told the Odessa American there would likely be incremental work such as smaller test facilities along the way. The plant itself 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.
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, and company officials previously told the Odessa American the company will supplement the grant with about $13 million in investor funding.
Contact Corey Paul on Twitter @OAcrude on Facebook at OA Corey Paul or call 432-333-7768.