An image shows the TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Natrium technology, which features a sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system. (TerraPower)

A progress report to members of the Joint Committee on Minerals, Business & Economic Development in Laramie Thursday offered mostly good news to proponents of building a first-of-its-kind nuclear reactor in Wyoming. Even with the backing of the Biden White House and the U.S. Department of Energy, however, the nascent plan still faces numerous administrative and legislative hurdles.

Officials with Rocky Mountain Power — who will facilitate construction of the project alongside billionaire tech entrepreneur Bill Gates’ company, TerraPower — told lawmakers they will select a  project site by the end of 2021. They are eying four potential choices across Wyoming: Jim Bridger near Rock Springs, Naughton in Kemmerer, Dave Johnston near Glenrock or WyoDak near Gillette.

Appropriators in the U.S. Senate recently approved billions of dollars in aid to bolster nuclear energy production. 

In addition, Wyoming Mining Association Director Travis Deti informed lawmakers the DOE filed a request for information regarding the establishment of a domestic uranium reserve program in an effort to reinvigorate domestic nuclear fuel supply chain capabilities.

“We’re hopeful we can start producing [uranium] again in this state,” Deti said.

Capitalizing on nuclear

Numerous legislative fixes would be required to keep Wyoming statutes up- to date with changing technologies and accommodate such a facility.

Concerns from lawmakers about Wyoming’s ability to capitalize on the project, however, are likely overblown, officials with the Idaho National Laboratory in Arco told the committee. Easy access to natural gas and hydrogen along with pre-existing rail infrastructure make Wyoming a prime site for the facility as well as a potential location for manufacturing its components, according to the INL’s Dr. Richard Boardman.

Boardman added that while the University of Wyoming lacks a nuclear energy program, its School of Energy Resources could facilitate the training necessary to develop workforces for constructing and operating the facility.

“Probably 90% of what we have spoken of that’s necessary for this project is already located at the university in what is currently the Department of Chemical Engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, physics,” Boardman said. 

Skeptics

Some remained skeptical of the project’s broader implications. 

State Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) — a staunch advocate for coal — expressed concerns about a Wyoming-based utility courting federal funding to pioneer an alternative form of energy. 

“I just don’t understand from a market perspective how that’s even appropriate,” Gray said.

This came despite project boosters billing the facility as a way to fill the void left behind by coal-fired facilities that are no longer competitive against cheaper energy sources like oil and gas.

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Others have raised environmental concerns outside of the meeting. (Activist pressure helped defeat a plan in the Wyoming Legislature to pursue a temporary nuclear waste storage facility in the 2019 interim session.) 

Natrium officials previously told WyoFile the waste produced by the facility would be stored on site. 

Still up for debate, however, is how to tax the new style of reactor.

Some cited low taxes for energy produced by renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie), however, was reluctant to give nuclear a tax-free pass, urging lawmakers not to set an arbitrary tax rate that would hinder Wyoming’s future earning potential.

“The last thing we need to do is find ways to reduce our revenue right now,” Rothfuss said. 

The committee ultimately defeated a motion to reduce the state’s production taxes on nuclear energy to zero. 

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  1. Some of the problem with nuclear progress is to rebrand its 50 years of wrongful demonization. Most media sources favor accidents and demonization of many of the facts. Nuclear holds the largest amount of volume energy production for some 20 years. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima wrongfully demonized by the media. Three Mile Island melt down shut down by itself via its design. Chernobyl was self-inflicted by its operating crew. Fukushima, A natural disaster that cost the lives of thousands of people was ignored in favor of a nuclear ‘disaster’ that never was. The tidal wave that struck Fukushima was caused by an earthquake. The world nuclear community advised Japan to build Fukushima several miles inland BECAUSE of the earthquake possibility. Bad choice, government economics – 101, the people paid the price.

    It is unfortunate that the “media” sling so much untruthful bullshit instead of facts!

  2. Sounds like poor old Joe Biden is just as gullible as the Wyoming Legislature when it comes to the nuclear Fantasy. Fortunately we will Never see a nuclear plant in this state.

    1. I hope you’re right, but the pinheads are persistent, and devoted to the religion of kaputalism.

  3. In the words of Admiral Rickover, fast sodium reactors are expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolong shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time consuming to repair. Every single commercial sodium fast reactors has been a multi billion dollar financial catastrophe. The function of a fast reactor is to produce more fuel than they use and that requires reprocessing of the nuclear fuel. Reprocessing facilities cost 10’s of billions of dollars to build and create large amounts of radioactive materials that have to be somehow safely permanently buried. The function of the sodium cooled Versatile Test Reactor is to support fast reactor development. Conventional advanced reactors have no need for the VTR as existing facilities are quite adequate.
    The economics of fast reactors are utterly dismal, as is the need for such machines.