More than 100 people attended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's public information sessions Nov. 7, 2023, in Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

KEMMERER—TerraPower, backed by billionaire Bill Gates and the U.S. Department of Energy, plans to build the pilot “Natrium” liquid-sodium-cooled nuclear energy plant here, hoping its success will spur the deployment of Natrium and other small nuclear reactors throughout the nation and around the world.

The next-generation technology presents myriad considerations for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has authority over the safety, security and environmental implications of such facilities. It would also be the first industrial nuclear facility in Wyoming, and locals have many questions:

Does the NRC take seismic activity into account? When might the spent radioactive fuel waste be shipped off to a permanent storage facility? Will there be regular NRC inspections, and how often?

Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton), however, shares another concern that is top-of-mind for locals who are eager for the economic boost that developers promise: Can the NRC speed up the approval process “if you get the right people in place?

“I’m running out of time planning and creating legislation to make sure this all comes together,” he said.

Dockstader was among more than 100 local residents who attended the NRC’s two information sessions here Tuesday. The agency sent a dozen staff members to this isolated southwestern Wyoming town of 2,400 to field questions about what many anticipate will be an expedited review process.

Review process

TerraPower and its contractors have already drilled more than 100 boreholes here to help “investigate” the suitability of the location, according to the company, and it plans to begin construction of the sodium testing facility and other non-nuclear portions of the 345-megawatt Natrium nuclear reactor energy plant in 2024. 

Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) poses a question to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials during a public meeting Nov. 7, 2023, in Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The nuclear plant will be “co-located” next to PacifiCorp’s Naughton power plant just outside of Kemmerer. One coal-burning unit at the plant was converted to natural gas, and the two remaining units there will be converted to natural gas in 2026.

Before the company can begin assembling the nuclear components, however, it must complete a licensing application that can pass the NRC’s review process, which includes several opportunities for the public to weigh in on the proposal. The NRC expects to receive TerraPower’s application, and initiate the official review process in March. 

“Now is an opportune time to conduct this initial outreach and to explain the analysis process of reviewing applications for construction and operation,” NRC’s Chief of Advanced Reactor Licensing William Jessup said. 

Although the NRC is developing a new review process specific to “advanced” reactors such as Natrium, which uses molten sodium as a coolant instead of water, TerraPower has tentatively agreed to seek approval via the long existing “Part 50” review, according to Jessup. It includes multiple review tracks, each with a safety and environmental component: one to consider a construction permit, and another to consider an operating license. The process requires the NRC to produce an environmental impact statement — all of which include public input and multiple opportunities for the normal administrative and legal challenges that come with large federal permitting activities, Jessup explained.

Typically, the arduous NRC review can take up to seven years or more to complete — with no guarantee of final approval. Last year, the NRC denied Oklo Power, LLC’s application to build a “fast reactor” in Idaho for allegedly failing to provide sufficient information on the facility’s design.

TerraPower — which is embarking on its first NRC licensing attempt — hopes to win approval much sooner, however, thanks in part to the 2019 Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. The law — championed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) — set a maximum review timeline of 36 months. Additionally, TerraPower expects to help the NRC trim that timeline even further by filing information ahead of schedule.

It all depends on TerraPower submitting thorough information that doesn’t require many requests to fill in unanswered questions, according to the NRC.

Patricia Vokoun, Mallecia Sutton and William Jessup of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission field questions during a public meeting Nov. 7, 2023, in Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“If we have all of these discussions and address all of these topics before the application even comes in, then you would expect that it may make the review go faster,” Jessup told WyoFile.


Many locals are eager for the potential economic boon the $4 billion project might bring to this region, which has long relied on the diminishing coal industry to power its economy. But many of the same people, and others, are concerned about the high-stake risks that come with a nuclear facility.

Does the NRC take seismic activity into account?

Yes, NRC officials said, adding that they are aware that there is seismic activity in the Rocky Mountain Region.

Several residents, including Rep. Scott Heiner (R-Green River), asked when the radioactive spent fuel might be transported to a permanent storage facility.

“Is there a permanent solution for waste that is being worked on at this time?” Heiner asked.

No, there is no permanent nuclear fuel waste repository in the U.S. at the moment, NRC officials said. Though NRC staff in attendance indicated they “anticipate” one will be built, others have long indicated that there’s no clear path to building a permanent repository, which has been discussed for decades.

For now, that means spent nuclear fuel will be “temporarily” stored on site — for how long, nobody knows.

The NRC also fielded questions about how nuclear fuel will be transported to the facility and how safety of those radioactive materials will be ensured. The NRC, along with several other federal agencies, closely manage the transport of such materials in cooperation with state agencies, according to staff members. A specific plan, however, will be worked out in the NRC’s review, they said.

NRC representatives also assured locals that they will maintain partnerships with local emergency managers and state environmental authorities. 

Many questions about TerraPower’s Natrium design, however — such as water consumption and where the company will find enough construction and permanent workers — are up to the company to answer. However, most of those details — with the exception of information that the NRC agrees to deem proprietary — will be included in the application and public review, according to NRC staff.

“That’s the reason we’re here tonight,” Jessup said. “We’re here to get the message out early about our process and how to interact.”

Here’s a link to the NRC’s TerraPower/Natrium project webpage where the agency will maintain information about the project.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to clarify the NRC’s multiple review tracks anticipated for the project. -Ed

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. We cannot afford nuclear power. We have not even found a way to store the high-level waste we have now by the tens of thousands of tons. Look up the fire at our only site yet, WIPP, and how it contaminated the local area.
    If you like energy subsidies, you will love nuclear. It was born subsidized and remains so, but the NRC does not like to talk about it.
    My PV solar system powers our household and electric cars.
    Do you still pay for electricity and gasoline?

  2. I wonder how different the plant systems are in comparison to the liquid-metal sodium cooled Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) at the Hanford Area in Eastern Washington near Richland. It was planned as the demonstration plant for the breeder reactor program that would have led to the Clinch River plant near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was cancelled by President Jimmy Carter and the site has since been environmentally restored to its original condition. Obviously the control systems are better and updated with more solid state circuits and devices. The liquid metal does not have high pressures like water cooled pressurized water reactors that are currently in service across the nation so less chance for primary cooling pipe breaks. However, liquid sodium metal is flammable in air and is moved by electromagnetic pumps with no impellers. Curious about design details.

  3. Question! Why are they considering using uranium when thorium is a much more available and produces much less dangerous byproducts but this is a step forward until we can make and build a viable nuclear fusion reactor!

  4. The plant is only as safe as the regulator is prudent. Wyoming needs to see the credentials of those NRC staff reviewing and approving the design. In this era of woke and diversity, it only matters that the staff are technically qualified to review and understand the design sufficiently to foresee any significant nuclear safety flaws; there is no place in Wyoming for knowledge of the job here with this first of a kind technology nuclear reactor by a new reactor manufacturer and it’s subsequent radiation safety to be displaced by quotas regarding gender, race, sexual orientation and other inconsequential political social agenda. Wyoming expects and deserves highly experienced and knowledgeable NRC engineers and scientists thoroughly reviewing and completely understanding the technical risks and ramifications of this application and approving it only on its merit regardless of the NRC staff race, gender and sexual orientation. Wyoming is concerned that the NRC staff reviewing this nuclear plant application were selected because they are very good at what they do and were not selected because of what they are.

  5. AS NUSCALE just pulled out of UTAH after UTAH RATE PAYERS gave them $200 million DOLLARS, same day as THIS MEETING there is now SMR its a UPFRONT MONEY LOOT JOB Fairytale NO SMR never will BE this is BILL GATES GIANT SCAM,

  6. A permanent nuclear waste repository that:
    1. NRC staff “anticipate” one will be built, despite,
    2. there being no clear path to building a permanent repository, even though,
    3. it has which has been discussed for decades, which means,
    4. spent nuclear fuel will be “temporarily” stored on site — for how long, nobody knows.

    What could go wrong?

  7. I am really excited that we could have the cleanest, safest, long-term energy supply ever available! Thanks for covering this. I had no idea it was even being planned.

    1. Problem is, from my understanding, most of the product will be shipped to the West Coast (California)

  8. Thanks Dustin for the excellent factual reporting! I believe we are all anxious to see how this process goes forward, now that NRC has been here and explained “somewhat” the permitting process and time line.

  9. No solution for storage of the spent nuclear materials is a problem that must be fixed. I would not want that material stored on site if my family lived in that area. I trust local people will work out this and other problems and mitigate the risks before bringing the plant online.

  10. This power supply is 20-25 years down the road. Costs will be triple the projection. Enjoy the high electricity rates. Thank poor planning politicians and the Green Energy (no such thing exists) folks. After all to join the third world countries it is mandatory one has spotty electricity supply.

    1. Green energy does exist, maybe not in Wyoming yet but here in Vermont and many other states it definitely does. Vermont get 60% of it’s electricity from in state hydro, 15% from wind/solar and 25% from a nuclear plant just down the road in NH. Finding a place for spent rods and replaced wind turbine blades is a problem but does not enough to disinfect the drive to Green Energy. I moveed to Wyom in 1996 to attend grad school ar UW. While there is become part of a state and UW progra, called Wyoming Human Services Project which send discenplanary teams to places that experiencing a coal boom where human services was not keeping with the rapid growth. After graduation I went to Gillette for 2 years. While at UW we went to impacted cities like Gilletee, Wheatland and Rock Springs. we spent entire days being shown around the sites by their Plant Managers. Gary Glass, then State Geologist was part of your program. All the experts back then said there was 50 years of coal in Campell County which has come. The new plant manager at Jim Bridger was a diamond mine manager form South Africa. Summer of 1972 I spent in Douglas by the state to canvass the community regarding an imprending construction of a Coal Gasification plant by Panhandle Eastern. The project never happened. Today, 50 years later, mines in Gillettte are shutting down not totaly from lack of coal but as a result of demand destruction for coal. If people who are puching back on the new plant being considered in Kemmerer are succdessful due to Bill Gates politics and the misinformation that follows. He and his wife have donated billions to worthy charitable causes for decades. Embrace this new technology. It can save both Wyoming and the country from the disaster of a bust in coal and oil.