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North Texas could be home to nuclear power plant until 2053. Why are residents opposed?

January 19,2023
Haley Samsel, KERA NEWS

Comanche Peak - Image courtesy of NRC
Comanche Peak – Image courtesy of NRC
Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, pictured in 2007, sits about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth and adjacent to Glen Rose in Somervell County. The first unit came online in 1990.

There’s no escaping the fact that Terry McIntire’s family farm sits less than four miles from the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. Every time the Fort Worth resident visits Somervell County to take care of his 96-year-old father, he drives past a warning siren installed near his family cemetery.

“Most people probably don’t even think about it,” McIntire said. “But if there’s an accident, the 10-mile perimeter includes all of Glen Rose and all of our family property. The air would be unsafe to breathe, and probably the land would be uninhabitable forever.”

Comanche Peak’s future in North Texas is also in the air as the plant’s owner, Vistra, petitions the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep reactors online through at least 2053. The company’s current licenses for two nuclear units, which have the capacity to power 1.2 million homes under normal electricity conditions, expire in 2030 and 2033, respectively.

The plant has had a massive presence – both physically and economically – in Somervell County, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, since construction began on nuclear reactors in 1974. Vistra says Comanche Peak is the county’s largest taxpayer, accounting for more than $30 million in state and local taxes per year and more than 600 full-time employees.

Nuclear energy is uniquely positioned to provide reliable, carbon-free power to a country searching for cleaner sources of electricity, Jim Burke, president and CEO of Vistra, said in an October announcement. (While nuclear energy does not produce carbon dioxide, construction of the plants and the transportation of uranium and nuclear waste generates emissions, researchers have found).

“Renewing the licenses of this plant is critical for grid reliability and our environment and is a benefit to the economy, the local community, and our company,” Burke said. “Our team stands ready to continue a proud tradition of safety, dependability, and operational excellence at Comanche Peak, and we are excited to be filing this application for extension.”

That view isn’t shared by all living in the 50-mile radius of the plant, including Tarrant, Hood and Somervell counties. Several residents have expressed concern over safety measures and the plant’s long-term sustainability amid challenges posed by aging infrastructure, drought and low-level earthquakes.

At a Jan. 17 virtual public meeting hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nearly 100 attendees asked questions about how the commission will evaluate the plant’s environmental impact and shared their experiences with Comanche Peak.

Janet Mattern, a southwest Fort Worth resident living within 50 miles of the plant, said the commission has an obligation to educate the public about the risks of extending the life of the reactors. Mattern also serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Tarrant County.

“Recent reports have stated that when nuclear power plants were initially approved in the ‘80s and ‘90s that the NRC underestimated the risks to public safety at that time,” Mattern said. “We need to make sure that those risks are communicated to the public prior to the renewal of this license.”

Susybelle Gosslee, chair on hazardous waste issues for the League of Women Voters of Texas, asked the NRC to consider how the increasing frequency of drought conditions could lead to more wildfires and limit the availability of water for plant operations. Rita Beving of Dallas urged agency staff to dig into how natural gas drilling in the region could lead to more earthquakes near the plant.

Beving expressed concern that the plant’s safety measures did not account for higher seismic activity, which researchers have connected to deep injection wells and fracking.

“This plant needs further scrutiny and further evaluation,” Beving said. “Even though I know officials have been very pleased with this plant, everyone should be very concerned as this plant ages since some of its components have been around since the 1980s.”

Before the meeting, Vistra spokesperson Meranda Cohn said there is a considerable safety margin between seismic activity the plant is built to handle and any potential seismic activity in the area. All recorded earthquakes in the area have fallen well within that margin, Cohn said.

There is no potential for “toxic runoff” at Comanche Peak, she added. The plant must constantly release water from Squaw Creek Reservoir into the Brazos River, and the water is routinely monitored to ensure it meets state and federal standards, Cohn said.
“Our highest priority is the safety of the public, our people, and our plants,” Cohn wrote. “Comanche Peak is designed to meet the stringent requirements of the NRC, and it meets all codes, standards, and regulations with respect to safe operations and environmental impacts.”

Comanche Peak also received testimonies of support from community leaders, including Glen Rose ISD Superintendent Trig Overbo and Somervell County Judge Danny Chambers. Plant staff have always been good neighbors, Chambers said, and county staff are regularly in contact with Comanche Peak leaders.

Residents with concerns should visit the plant’s visitors’ center and get their questions answered, he added.

“I don’t have anything bad to say because obviously Somervell County wouldn’t be what it is today without the power plant and without what is injected into our community through the workforce, through the financial output,” Chambers said. “There’s no reason for it not to go on because I don’t know how you’d replace what it puts on the grid without it here today.”

Technical issues prevented several people from unmuting their microphones to ask questions or comment over the course of the meeting, which lasted for more than two hours. The commission originally planned two in-person public meetings in Glen Rose on Jan. 10 but moved the session online due to COVID-19 concerns.

Attendees urged commission staff to host an in-person meeting and delay their deadlines to submit comments or apply for a public hearing. Public comments are due by email or mail by Jan. 30, as are requests for public hearings. Instructions to apply for a public hearing are published on The Federal Register.

“I thank you very much for doing this particular meeting online, but even some of these people have not had access to express their comments,” Gosslee, the League of Women Voters of Texas member, said. “There needs to be a public hearing for the people that live close to it and for the people who live many miles away.”

To qualify for a hearing, members of the public must explain why they’re affected by a nuclear facility and the reasons why they believe a proposed action raises environmental or safety questions, according to NRC guidelines. Scott Burnell, a public affairs officer for the NRC who answered questions at the meeting, said people typically have to show proximity to the plant by being located within a 50-mile radius of the reactor.

McIntire, who stands to inherit his family farm in Somervell County, doesn’t expect the efforts of activists to stop the relicensing of the project. But the NRC should exercise more oversight of the plant – and find a permanent storage location for nuclear waste so that it doesn’t stay in Glen Rose, he said.

“The best we can do is hope that it’ll be safer, and there will be better oversight for the next 20 years,” McIntire said.

How to weigh in on Comanche Peak

Public comments on the Comanche Peak environmental impact review can be submitted at under Docket ID: NRC-2022-0183 or by mail to the following address:

Office of Administration
Mailstop: TWFN-7-A60M
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, D.C. 20555-0001

Requests for extensions to the hearing and comment deadlines can be sent to

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

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Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Nuclear energy regulators go through motions of a public meeting. Their heart isn’t in it

Dallas Morning News

Watchdog Dave Lieber attends a public meeting on the future of Comanche Peak nuclear power plant.

GLEN ROSE — A few hours before a public hearing on whether to renew the operating licenses of Comanche Peak nuclear power plant, I drove out for the first time to see the twin domes that are supposed to protect us in case of a radiation release.

Unit 1 came online in 1990 and Unit 2 came on in 1993. From the outside they look a bit old and weather-beaten. But their importance to the shaky Texas electric grid cannot be ignored.

We need electricity from every possible source. But when it comes to nuclear power, potential disasters are always lurking. The plant is 50 miles from downtown Fort Worth and 80 miles from downtown Dallas.

Owner Vistra Corp. is applying for license renewals. Unit 1′s license runs out in 2030 and Unit 2′s license expires in 2033.

The renewals, if approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would extend their life all the way to 2050 and 2053.

If the licenses are denied, the plants would be dismantled, a process called “decommissioning.”

Some company executives and workers spoke briefly in praise of the plant. Several mentioned the plant’s safety record and reliability, especially during the 2021 February freezeout when it continued working while other electricity generators failed.

The NRC is one of our most important government agencies. Its mission is to power us up while also protecting us.

But like most public agencies, it is remote from the public. The two most public-facing actions occur when you file an open records request and when you attend and speak at an NRC public meeting.

On both fronts, the NRC appears to have its troubles.

I previously reported my test of NRC’s accountability when I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn about a June 2021 fire at Comanche Peak that was not very serious, although it did shut down the plant for nearly two weeks. I wasn’t so much interested in the fire as I was in the handling of my FOIA request. How accountable and forthright would the all-important NRC be?

The NRC muffed it.

A year went by with no response. When I finally complained, some records arrived along with an apology.

I graded the NRC an “F.”

Public meetings can be a challenge, too. Required by law during the license renewal process, the one I attended in Glen Rose felt as if NRC officials were going through the motions.

A two-hour meeting was scheduled, but the first 35 minutes were taken up showing a mundane NRC slide show. A parade of local elected officials followed with each praising the plant operators for their contribution to the local tax base.

Finally, LaVonne Cockerell of Fort Worth, sitting in the audience, couldn’t take it anymore. She interrupted and spoke in an exasperated tone: “Thirty-five minutes, and we haven’t gotten a chance to talk,” she complained.

Then, mixed in with plant employees who spoke glowingly (yes, pun intended) about the safety and care that goes into the plant’s daily operations, the critics finally got their chance.

In a room that had about 80 people — with some of them Vistra employees — more than a dozen critics stood to speak.

They raised valid questions that went unanswered.

How is the air and water affected?

What about onsite waste storage?

How about possible earthquake activity?

What about the impact of major droughts?

What about the plant’s vulnerability to terrorism?

But there was another complaint that kept coming up.

Speaker after speaker complained that the notice of the public meeting was not properly handled. Too few people knew about it. It’s clear that the NRC didn’t work on overdrive to publicize it.

NRC officials say they are satisfying public meeting requirements. They pointed out that this was their second recent public meeting. An in-person meeting scheduled for January was canceled for COVID-19 reasons, they said. The meeting was held virtually later last month. But several speakers said they couldn’t connect online and they requested a do-over.

Several speakers said that if the word had been spread more effectively more area residents would have attended.

“This affects the people who live in Dallas-Fort Worth,” Karen Hadden of Austin told me.

“This has not been an open process,” she said. “I think the local community does not know what’s going on.”

“So many people would be affected by any accidents,” said Susybelle L. Gosslee. “Transparency and accountability are key elements of this government, and they make democracy work.”

Let’s review the stakes here. If there were an accident, those in the 10-mile radius zone would be most affected.

The plant’s emergency evacuation guidelines, which I’ve studied in the past, state that people in the 10-mile zone should flee.

It states, “Keep your car’s vents and windows closed while driving within 10 miles of the power plant. If you use your car air conditioning, set it on ‘inside’ or ‘maximum’ so it does not pull in outside air.”

“Residents are also advised to communicate with neighbors personally rather than clogging phone lines,” it says.

The plan says that livestock should be sheltered. “Leave them with food and water.” Pets are not permitted at “reception centers” outside the evacuation zone.

How big is that zone? Likely, it depends on which way the wind is blowing.

Before I sign off on this for now, I want to share a new word I learned while attending the meeting.

Embrittlement is a scientific term that refers to the weakening of a power plant through usage over time.

Comanche Peak was supposedly built with an intended 40-year life span.

With their licenses renewed they’d keep generating electricity until the 2050s.

That’s why public feedback is crucial. These meetings should be done not because the NRC has to, but because it wants to.

Even though the law doesn’t require it, the NRC should hold more public meetings in the most affected, highly-populated areas, particularly southwestern Tarrant County.

Put on a good public face. Don’t hide news of your meetings. Face the embrittlement questions head on.

In the Know

As of now, no further Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meetings are scheduled for Comanche Peak’s license renewal. But the NRC is accepting public comments in writing until March 13.

By mail: Office of Administration

Mailstop: TWFN-7-A60M

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Washington, D.C. 20555-0001

By Internet: Go to and search for Docket ID: NRC-2022-0183. By email, use

Note that your comments will be made public, so withhold phone numbers or email addresses if you want to protect your privacy

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Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.