Wyoming announces plan for a nuclear power plant at retired coal plant

June 4, 2021

Wyoming will work with TerraPower to build a next-generation, small nuclear plant at the site of soon-to-be retired coal-fired power plant in the state.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is the founder and chairman of TerraPower. He said that the plant featuring a sodium reactor and molten salt energy storage system will perform better, be safer and cost less than traditional nuclear power.

The Associated Press reported that TerraPower is working with Rocky Mountain Power, an electric utility serving Wyoming and other Western states, to put the Natrium reactor at one of four of the utility’s power plants in Wyoming, with the location to be decided later this year.

“We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry,” Gates said by video link to a news conference hosted by Republican Gov. Mark Gordon. “Wyoming has been a leader in energy for over a century and we hope our investment in Natrium will help Wyoming to stay in the lead for many decades to come.”

Wyoming is the top uranium-mining state, and the reactor would use uranium from “in situ” mines that extract the heavy metal from networks of water wells on the high plains, officials said.

Wyoming also is the top coal mining state. The U.S. coal industry has suffered a dramatic downturn over the past decade as utilities switch to cheaper and cleaner-burning gas to generate electricity.

The reactor proposal creates common ground between Wyoming, one of the most Republican states, and Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration.

“The future of nuclear energy is here,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said by video link. “It’s got a simpler design that will hopefully result in faster construction at lower cost. It’s going to create a smaller footprint. It’s going to be equipped with next generation safety measures.”
If it’s as reliable as conventional nuclear power, the 345-megawatt plant would produce enough power for roughly 250,000 homes. The plant also would produce hydrogen, which can power trucks and other vehicles with fuel cells.

The plant will be a “multibillion-dollar project” with costs to be split evenly between government and private industry, TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque said.

The plant would produce two-thirds less waste by volume than conventional nuclear plants, Levesque said.

Proposals to store nuclear waste in Wyoming have failed to pass the state Legislature in recent decades. While some waste would need to be stored on site, the plant isn’t going to be a way to “solve the nation’s waste problems,” Gordon said.

Gordon announced last winter he would make Wyoming carbon negative, meaning the state would capture more carbon dioxide than it emitted. Gordon is a proponent of carbon capture, or nabbing the greenhouse gas from power plant flue streams and pumping it underground. The technology has yet to be proven commercially viable on a large scale.

Gordon also has held open the possibility of suing states whose greenhouse gas goals lead to the shutdown of Wyoming coal-fired power. He continued to stand by fossil energy Wednesday.

“I am not going to abandon any of our fossil fuel industry. It is absolutely essential to our state,” Gordon said.

The candidate reactor sites are the Wyodak plant near Gillette in coal-rich northeastern Wyoming, the Naughton plant near Kemmerer in southwestern Wyoming, the Jim Bridger plant outside Rock Springs in southwestern Wyoming and the Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock in uranium-rich east-central Wyoming.

 

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