Wyoming, Idaho Chase Billions In Funding To Make Region A Nuclear Hub

Wyoming and Idaho officials have been quietly meeting for months as part of a working group to target billions of dollars in federal funding for advanced nuclear projects to make the region a U.S. nuclear hub.

Pat Maio

April 12, 20244 min read

Idaho National Laboratory
Idaho National Laboratory (Idaho National Laboratory)

Wyoming, the largest supplier of coal to power plants in the United States, wants to expand that reputation as coal continues to make up less of the nation’s power generation.

Over the past several months, a group of Wyoming and Idaho officials have quietly met to map out their ambitions to make the region the Mecca for advanced nuclear technology.

“This is important not just to our economy, but to the future of the energy industry, and it matters,” said Hope Morrow, co-manager of the Idaho Advanced Energy Consortium (IAEC), a nonprofit group created to lead the Wyoming and Idaho initiative for purposes of seeking money from the federal government.

“This group really supercharges what is already happening in our state and throughout the region, and highlights where we are headed with the nuclear program,” said Curtis Biggs, executive director of industry and strategic partnerships in the research and economic development division of the University of Wyoming.

“The best place to start with this is here in Wyoming and Idaho,” Biggs said.

The Nuclear Solution

The idea behind the collaboration is to identify leading voices to spearhead an advanced nuclear program infrastructure and identify workforce issues involved in mining uranium and rare earth magnets, remediation of mining sites, build a possible enrichment facility to convert uranium into fuel and bring together a labyrinth of vendors needed to research and manufacture the key parts of building advanced nuclear reactors.

An example the group has highlighted as a crown jewel of its efforts is the Bill Gates-backed TerraPower LLC demonstration reactor that the Bellevue, Washington-based company is building in southwestern Wyoming.

The working group will consider other kinds of advanced nuclear reactors, as well as ties with universities and community colleges throughout the region to supply a specialized workforce of engineers and scientists as well as blue-collar laborers like electricians, plumbers, welders and others.

The group’s work isn’t a pipe dream.

The group is vying for $70 million in funding from the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, with another $37 million kicked in from industry partners. The federal decision on making the $70 million award could come as early as June, Morrow said.

An estimated $20 million may be earmarked for the University of Wyoming, which also is part of this advanced nuclear collaborative, Biggs confirmed.

The Wyoming and Idaho officials are working as part of a group not only with UW, but also with vendors like L&H Industrial in Gillette and Disa Technologies Inc. in Casper.

Morrow’s group, IAEC, is managing this effort as part of larger partnership formally known as the Intermountain-West Nuclear Energy Corridor.

The federal government’s Idaho National Laboratory, which is one of the nation’s premier government laboratories that performs nuclear energy research for commercial and military applications, also has a key role with the energy corridor group.

The corridor group is an important framework for the region that is in the early stages of development.

“We are going to move the needle on accelerating the commercialization of advanced nuclear between the two states,” Morrow said.

Wyoming Is The Horse

Last year, the corridor received a little less than $500,000 from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration to begin work on forming a technology hub for advanced nuclear technology work and outlining what it would look like.

That funding came from CHIPS, which funded $500 million to set up a variety of tech hubs – not just advanced nuclear work — around the U.S. to support the domestic production of semiconductors and other federal science agencies.

There’s a bigger CHIPS pool of $10 billion set aside for future phases of funding for all these tech hubs, including the one in Wyoming and Idaho, which is the only one chasing the advanced nuclear field work in the U.S.

In some ways, Wyoming and Idaho have a locked funding stream should the U.S. continue to spotlight advanced nuclear research as important to national security and want to develop the infrastructure needed to further support the field.

“We are the only advanced nuclear tech hub. We are the horse. We are the only horse,” Morrow said.

Biggs agreed.

“The tech hub designation is a real nice shot in arm for Wyoming and Idaho,” he said.

Other hubs getting CHIPS money are focused on next-generation geothermal plants, clean hydrogen, carbon management, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing techniques.

The Wyoming and Idaho hub is among 31 tech hubs that were selected last fall from nearly 200 applications across the country.

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Pat Maio


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