Uranium for the proposed TerraPower nuclear plant in Kemmerer might come from Wyoming after all.
Uranium Energy Corp, which has about 20 uranium sites in Wyoming, announced Thursday that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with TerraPower to “restore domestic supply chains of uranium fuel” and, along the way, supply TerraPower’s proposed Natrium reactor in Kemmerer.
Given that the company had been thinking its uranium would likely be sourced from Ohio or New Mexico, the announcement touched off a wave of excitement around the Cowboy State.
“The MOU is a great step forward for the Wyoming uranium industry, which is host to the largest uranium reserves in the United States,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in an emailed statement. “It makes no sense to depend on Russian uranium and enrichment technology, when a fully domestic fuel source can be found here in Wyoming and manufactured in the United States.”
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, touted the deal during a Senate committee meeting, entering it into the record, while U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyoming, sent out a statement.
“I am proud to represent a state that plays a leading role in abundant, affordable and reliable energy while reducing our dependence on oppressive, dictatorial regimes like Russia, China and Iran,” she said in the statement. “This MOU holds great promise for our state and demonstrates Wyoming’s primacy in keeping the lights on and utility costs low.”
TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque, meanwhile, praised Wyoming’s leadership in uranium mining.
“We look forward to collaborating with UEC on the potential opportunity for Wyoming uranium to fuel our first reactor,” he said.
Who Is Uranium Energy Corp
Uranium Energy is North America’s largest uranium-focused company. It has a number of high-grade conventional projects in both America and Canada, more than 20 of which are located in the Cowboy State. Sites are listed on the company’s website in Converse, Johnson, Campbell, Natrona, Sweetwater, Fremont and Carbon counties.
The company, in its description of Wyoming resources, says the deposits it owns in the Cowboy State comprise the largest domestic resource of uranium in the United States.
Four of its Wyoming projects in the Powder River Basin are already fully permitted for recovery. Those projects include facilities in Johnson County — the Irigaray Central Processing Plant and Christensen Ranch ISR. This is where UEC said it plans to start its mining operations for TerraPower.
“In these geo-politically complex times, UEC’s vision is to be the leading provider of conflict-free, American uranium for the existing, as well as the new, reactors that will come online,” UEC President and CEO Amir Adnani said in a press release. “We look forward to working with TerraPower and the prospect of providing the uranium they need to operate their Wyoming Natrium reactor.”
In its annual report released in September, Adnani noted rising demand around the globe for uranium and detailed company efforts to meet that rise in demand.
Those efforts included more drilling and expansion of resources in both south Texas and Wyoming.
“Additional drilling was completed in Wyoming and is expected to result in an expansion of current resources as part of the restart program,” he said in the report.
About TerraPower’s Kemmerer project
TerraPower’s proposed Natrium plant will be a 345-megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor, coupled with a molten salt-based energy storage system that can potentially boost power to 500 MW at times of peak demand.
The gameplay for the company, which is owned by Bill Gates, is to provide stable, clean, base energy power that has high reliability with low carbon emissions. Gates, in proposing the idea, said he intended to place the plants in communities where coal plants are closing, to provide employment opportunities to coal workers who are losing their jobs.
That is part of how Kemmerer ended up being selected for the first plant. Rocky Mountain Power had announced it was going to close the coal plant there in 2030, along with several others in Wyoming.
Kemmerer was the winner of a tight competition for the first Natrium plant, but it might not be the only one.
TerraPower has signed an MOU with Rocky Mountain Power that promises to look at nuclear plants in other Wyoming communities that are losing their coal plants.
Sourcing Wyoming Uranium
Widespread media reports had suggested that TerraPower would source uranium from Russia, but company officials have told Cowboy State Daily that was mostly intended as an initial source of supply, not an ongoing source.
Once Russia invaded Ukraine, the company scrapped that plan and focused on finding a domestic source instead. Some initial reports suggested those sources might be in Ohio or New Mexico, but company officials told Cowboy State Daily they still hoped the material would eventually come from a source closer to the power plants.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, there were ongoing efforts to provide incentives to encourage development of a domestic supply of uranium for advanced nuclear reactors.
“Congress has been slow to fund that,” TerraPower Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin told Cowboy State Daily. “Sen. Barasso has been very helpful in getting some funding to help stand that program up.”
That program is providing $500 million to $600 million to develop a domestic supply of uranium.
Barasso on Thursday touted the memorandum of understanding between TerraPower and Uranium Energy on Capitol Hill during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s hearing examining challenges for commercialization of advanced nuclear reactors like the one proposed for Kemmerer.
Barrasso is the committee’s ranking member.
“It’s difficult to gain confidence in nuclear when our nuclear fuel supply right now is subject to the will of Vladimir Putin,” Barrasso said. “I think we need to wean ourselves abruptly off of Russian uranium. So, I’m encouraged by today’s announcement that TerraPower and Uranium Energy Corp are working to supply the Natrium reactor with domestic fuel.”
During the hearing, Jeffrey S. Merrifield, former commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, testified to the need for incentives and expertise to help improve both domestic uranium supplies and development of advanced nuclear reactors.
“Events in the Ukraine have made it abundantly clear that our nation has become overly dependent on Russian-supplied low-enriched uranium (LEU) and was also relying on Russia to fill our short-term need of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU),” Merrifield testified. “I would like to recognize that recent Congressional efforts to address these issues are helpful, but additional legislation, including creating a federally owned inventory of LEU and HALEU, is vital to help spur additional private investment in domestic uranium enrichment capabilities.”
Barrasso told Merrifield that he is actively working to include many of those recommendations in the National Fuel Security Act, as well as this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.