The company planning to install a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer will use Russian uranium in its operation, but its officials are working to cultivate a domestic source of the element.
But the use of Russian uranium is concerning to some Wyoming legislators, who this week tried to amend a state bill setting up the permitting process for the proposed Natrium power plant to prohibit its use while encouraging the use of Wyoming uranium.
The company TerraPower is working to build a small demonstration nuclear reactor at the site of a coal-fired power plant owned by Rocky Mountain Power. Wyoming’s Legislature, through House Bill 131, is updating the regulations that will allow the plant to operate and allow for the storage of nuclear waste.
Jeff Navin, TerraPower’s director of external affairs, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the company is in a quandary, as the only facility that can produce commercial quantities of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is owned and operated by Tenex in Russia, which he said was “problematic on a number of levels.”
“Recognizing this gap in the supply chain, last year, TerraPower allocated funds within the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program proposal … to help create an American competitor to Tenex, and we are working with Congress and the Department of Energy to expedite the development of domestic enrichment capability,” Navin said.
“This investment has helped support the only facility in the United States currently licensed to produce HALEU, although they do not yet have the capability to produce HALEU at commercial levels,” he said.
The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.
In addition to trying to build up American producers of HALEU, TerraPower is investing in an American company to produce the fuel rods, Navin said.
However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he was “troubled” by the use of Russian uranium in the reactor. Gray, along with Reps. Karlee Provenza and Trey Sherwood, both D-Laramie, wrote an amendment to House Bill 131 that would have required the plant to use as much Wyoming uranium as possible while prohibiting the use of Russian uranium.
“I’m Wyoming first,” he said. “I’m not for using Russian uranium at this site, and that’s the direction it’s going. It’s wrong.”
Last summer, Gov. Mark Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced the Natrium plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant would be built in Wyoming by 2027 or 2028. The reactor is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.
The proposed reactor would use technology developed by TerraPower, and would result in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.
Navin noted that the investment was made with the knowledge that TerraPower could not rely on unstable countries like Russia for advanced reactor fuel, a fact officials recognized even before the Ukraine invasion last week.
“In addition to the strategic and moral imperative to end any reliance on Russian HALEU, creating domestic enrichment capability is the best way to ensure that domestic sources of uranium are used in HALEU production,” Navin said.
“Uranium is a commodity, and HALEU producers will use the lowest cost uranium they can find,” he added. “Shipping uranium halfway around the world is expensive, and for economic and strategic reasons, we shouldn’t expect the Russians to purchase uranium from Wyoming to produce HALEU in Russia.”
He added that TerraPower officials want to see a robust American uranium market driven by free market principles of competition, but that federal support was needed to jumpstart this part of the supply chain.
“The crisis in Ukraine is awakening the world to the need to move beyond Russian sources of energy, and TerraPower does not want Russian HALEU in our reactor,” Navin said.
According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.