By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
One of Wyoming’s retiring coal-fired power plants could be the home to a nuclear power demonstration plant, Gov. Mark Gordon and other officials announced Wednesday.
Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced they are working to build a “Natrium” reactor demonstration plant in Wyoming that will use uranium produced by the state.
“Today’s announcement is really, truly game changing and monumental for Wyoming,” Gordon said during a news conference.
The Natrium technology has been developed by TerraPower, a nuclear power innovation company founded by software developer Bill Gates, and GE Hitachi, according to a news release from the state, TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power.
The technology results in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.
The plant to be built in Wyoming will generate 345 meagwatts, according to the release, but will also be able to store enough energy to generate 500 megawatts of power for more than five hours.
The plant will be built at one of Rocky Mountain Power’s existing coal power plants near Rock Springs, Glenrock, Kemmerer or Gillette, according to Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of the power company. The location should be decided by the end of the year, he said.
He added the plant and others like it that are planned for the future will help the company guarantee it can provide a constant source of power.
“We are currently building a lot of wind and solar plants,” he said. “But we know as a utility, like everyone else does, you can’t do 100% renewable and battery power 24/7/365. That’s what’s so exciting about this. It will allow us to provide carbon-free electricity 24/7/365.”
The company has announced it will be retiring some of its older power plants and Gordon said the power plant project will help employ workers left without jobs by the move.
“It is expected the jobs for operation of the plant will be comparable in number, salary and benefits to jobs at coal-fired plants,” he said.
In addition to helping Rocky Mountain Power and its parent company PacifiCorp meet its goals for reducing its use of carbon-based fuels to generate electricity, the plant fits in with the goal of President Joe Biden’s administration to reduce carbon emissions, said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who joined the news conference by video.
“This reactor shows the future of nuclear energy is here,” she said. “It’s got a simpler design, it is going to create a smaller footprint and it is equipped with next-generation safety measures.”
The plant will have to win approval for construction from several regulatory agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and officials are hoping to have it completed in 2027 or 2028.
According to a website created for the project, WyomingAdvancedEnergy.com, waste from spent nuclear fuel will be stored at the reactor site until a permanent national waste repository can be developed.
If the plant is approved, it will be the first commercial nuclear power plant built in the United States since 1977.