It’s Official: TerraPower Files Permit to Build Wyoming Nuclear Plant

Bill Gates-backed TerraPower LLC filed a construction permit with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday to build a commercial nuclear reactor in Kemmerer. It will be the first commercial nuclear reactor to be built in the U.S. in more than a dozen years.

Pat Maio

March 29, 20247 min read

Equipment is staged and ready to start building non-reactor infrastructure for the TerraPower Natrium nuclear power plant near Kemmerer, Wyoming.
Equipment is staged and ready to start building non-reactor infrastructure for the TerraPower Natrium nuclear power plant near Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Courtesy TerraPower)

Nuclear power in America is making a comeback, and Wyoming is where it's all happening.

From digging up vast deposits of uranium to becoming a vendor for nuclear reactor parts, Wyoming is at the center of all things U.S. nuclear.

Now comes the Bill Gates-backed TerraPower LLC, which made official its intent Friday to build a commercial nuclear reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming, with a construction permit filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The permit, though not approved, is a big deal as TerraPower’s reactor will become the first commercial nuclear reactor to be built in the United States in more than a dozen years.

“As of today, we are the only power plant project that has a construction permit in front of the NRC for a commercial power reactor,” TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “It means we are next, and Kemmerer is where America’s next nuclear reactor is to be built.”

And while a technical review of TerraPower’s novel nuclear reactor design could take a few years to get NRC approval, construction on some of the nonnuclear elements is expected to begin by the end of April, Levesque told Cowboy State Daily.

Another One On The Drawing Board

Bechtel Corp., a Reston, Virginia-based global engineering and construction firm, has been hired to begin scraping away dirt at the Kemmerer site as snow thaws to pave the way for the plant’s construction, Levesque said.

The nuclear fleet in the United States stands at 94 commercial reactors. But TerraPower will add to that mix its 345-megawatt Kemmerer Unit 1, though Levesque said the land bought in southwestern Wyoming is big enough for Kemmerer Unit 2, which is now on the drawing board.

The Bellevue, Washington-based company’s submission of a construction permit with the NRC is described by the TerraPower’s top executive as strategically significant.

“We are a young nuclear company. It’ll take about two years to get the permit approved, taking time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. That’s only the nuclear part,” said Levesque of his company’s delivery of a 3,700-page construction permit application to NRC staff Friday morning.

The NRC, which regulates nuclear reactors in the United States, said a technical review of TerraPower’s reactor design could take up to three years to evaluate.

Meanwhile, TerraPower is getting a jump on meeting its construction completion date of 2030 with building everything non-reactor related.

TerraPower, which has about $1 billion in private funding and $2 billion in backing from the U.S. Department of Energy, is confident in its deadlines for the project.

This is the first time that the NRC has reviewed an application for a full nuclear power plant using a sodium-cooled design like the one proposed by TerraPower, an NRC spokesman told Cowboy State Daily.

The Natrium nuclear plant proposed for Kemmerer could be a game-changer for the nuclear power industry.

The Natrium plant will use liquid sodium as a cooling agent instead of water. Sodium has several safety advantages over water. A higher boiling point means it can soak up more heat than water with less risk of explosion.

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Other Designs

The NRC spokesman said that his agency had previously gone through the construction permit process for “a small test reactor” built by Alameda, California-based Kairos Power LLC for its Hermes reactor cooled with molten salt.

In December, the NRC approved construction of the Hermes reactor at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, after a two-year technical review. Kairos plans to have the Hermes reactor operational by 2026.

The last commercial reactors to get approval by the NRC came in 2012.

That’s when NRC issued licenses for two nuclear reactors in Georgia, Vogtle 3 and 4. Those reactors are water-cooled and similar in design to today’s operating fleet of 94 reactors.

The Vogtle 3 reactor went into operation last year, and Vogtle 4 is completing startup testing before it begins operating later this year.

A water-cooled reactor uses purified water to cool the core of a reactor and to partially moderate the fuel’s chain reaction when the reactor runs.

“The NRC issued several additional licenses for large, light-water reactors, but the utilities holding those licenses have yet to move forward with construction,” the NRC spokesman said.

Going Nuclear

For decades, there have been very few new commercial reactors come online in the United States, but the concept of building small reactors seems to be catching on, especially in Wyoming where there’s serious discussions taking place to build an infrastructure to assemble the plants in the state.

Radiant Industries Inc., a nuclear technologies business, recently stated that it selected Wyoming as one of five finalists to locate a factory to build portable micro-nuclear power plants that can power anything from mining and drilling operations to military equipment or large subdivisions of homes.

Gillette-based L&H Industrial said recently that Cheyenne and Laramie are on a short list to become the corporate headquarters and spot to build a factory to assemble components for an emerging micro-nuclear reactor business.

TerraPower’s reactor would serve as a demonstration project but become a full-scale commercial plant upon completion.

TerraPower and its utility partner PacifiCorp, a unit of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, previously stated that they would study the feasibility of deploying another five reactors by 2035.

A look at future power requirements for PacifiCorp throughout its service territory could come Monday when the utility gives an updated snapshot of possible future power plant requirements with its submission of its integrated resource plan to regulatory agencies in several states, including Wyoming.

The Natrium demonstration plant is being constructed near the PacifiCorp’s retiring Naughton coal-fired power plant.

As the TerraPower nuclear demonstration plant prepares to break ground in Kemmerer, the town of 2,500 is preparing for up to 1,600 jobs that could come with it.

“Everything is on schedule to get this done by the summer of 2030,” said Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir.

“There was never any doubt that it wouldn’t happen,” Muir told Cowboy State Daily of the construction permit application with the NRC. “They are moving full-steam ahead. We are excited.”

Regulatory Review

The NRC spokesman said that the TerraPower application begins an intense review of the reactor’s technical design.

In the next step, NRC staff will determine whether the application is complete enough for a full technical review.

If the application is complete, the NRC will begin its technical work and give TerraPower an estimated schedule for reaching a decision on the permit.

The regulatory agency’s generic goal for completing the technical review is three years, the spokesman said.

As to construction, the NRC's authority extends to structures, systems and components necessary for nuclear safety. The permit, if issued, requires TerraPower to build its proposed nuclear reactor to the specifications submitted to the NRC.

“Other activities, such as site grading, fencing, road work or buildings and structures not related to nuclear safety can be done at TerraPower's own risk, the spokesman said.

This isn’t the end of the road for TerraPower.

Levesque told Cowboy State Daily that it sees a growing need for its reactors — especially given the power demand requirements for electricity-starved data centers like ones around Cheyenne — and power demand projections that triple between now and 2050.

“This is a great opportunity for an electricity-producing state like Wyoming,” said Levesque, who pointed to TerraPower’s deal with Uranium Energy Corp., which has about 20 uranium sites in Wyoming, to help with his company with the uranium fuel supply chain. “We do plan multiple Natrium reactors.”

Pat Maio can be reached at

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Pat Maio


Pat Maio is a veteran journalist who covers energy for Cowboy State Daily.