TerraPower plans to build the first-of-its-kind "advanced" Natrium nuclear power plant next to the Naughton coal-fired power plant in Kemmerer, which will be decommissioned before the nuclear plant goes online in 2028. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

TerraPower’s Natrium nuclear power plant in Kemmerer might help Oregon accomplish its climate action plan by helping to replace coal power, but state regulators, concerned by the project’s unprecedented timeline, aren’t yet willing to bet on it. 

The Oregon Public Utility Commission in March declined to formally acknowledge PacifiCorp’s plans for Natrium to be a part of its future electrical generation portfolio.

“This project is just so early that we don’t really feel like we can give it that kind of weight,” Oregon PUC Commissioner Mark Thompson said. “That’s not because PacifiCorp has done something wrong. I just think it’s just not knowable. It’s so early on.”

The commission approved the balance of PacifiCorp’s “integrated resource plan” for how it will meet future power needs for its Oregon customers. Commissioners said they remain open to including Natrium in future filings from PacifiCorp.

Why it matters

Natrium skeptics have noted that crucial federal funding for the project is tied to meeting aggressive deadlines. The commission’s decision appears to be the first instance of a regulatory body acting on similar concerns. 

PacifiCorp, which operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming, is a regulated utility providing electrical power to customers in six western states, including Oregon. State public utility authorities must approve plans for new electrical generation facilities before a utility is allowed to tap ratepayers to cover the cost.

History

PacifiCorp’s 2021 integrated resource plan calls for decommissioning its entire coal-fired power fleet by 2039 and adding more wind, solar and battery storage to its six-state operating system. It also hopes to add “advanced nuclear power,” beginning with the first-of-its-kind Natrium plant in Wyoming.

The U.S. Department of Energy is backing the Natrium project in Kemmerer with grants to cover half of the estimated $4 billion cost, and set an in-service deadline of 2028. Meeting that deadline will require an unprecedented pace of construction and regulatory clearance for an American utility-scale nuclear power plant. PacifiCorp has said it intends to take over ownership of the plant sometime after a trial operating period.

U.S. sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine could complicate that timeline, however. Russia-owned Tenex operates the only facility currently able to supply commercial volumes of the high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel the Natrium design requires.  

Who said what

There are “many unanswered risks” related to whether the Natrium project might go online by 2028, Oregon PUC Chairwoman Megan Decker said. However, Decker and other commissioners encouraged PacifiCorp to keep them updated on the Natrium project as it advances.

The decision by Oregon’s PUC “has no effect on TerraPower’s schedule to deliver the Natrium plant in Wyoming,” according to a TerraPower spokesperson.

“PacifiCorp and TerraPower understand that PacifiCorp will only move forward if the Natrium demonstration project brings value to our customers,” PacifiCorp spokeswoman Tiffany Erickson said.

Dustin Bleizeffer

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 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Well I thank it’s a good idea we need to start moving away from fossil fuel plus we need are incentives for our scientist to fine more ways to make power.

  2. Lets not forget, along with being the largest private farmland owner in the United States, Bill Gates is chairman of the board of TerraPower. He can get the needed resources from Russia. Next he will figure out how to control our water.

  3. The Natrium project will cost ~$4 Billion and provide generating capacity of about 400,000 kilowatts (kW) of power. That’s about $10,000 per kW.

    In comparison, on-shore wind generation, utility scale solar PV, and gas fired, combined cycle generation all cost about $1,300 per kW (see link at bottom) for new construction.

    This means a utility could build enough wind generation for 100% of its demand, back that up with 100% Solar PV, and back THAT up with 100% natural gas fired generation, and still spend only 40% of the cost of new, Natrium, nuclear generation.

    The renewable/gas combo could be built in probably a third of the time, operating costs for the wind and solar components would be almost negligible (based on current industry results), and of course there is no radioactive waste to be dealt with in the end.

    For these reasons, I doubt the Natrium plant will ever be built and I’m not sure it SHOULD be built.

  4. The article states: “Russia-owned Tenex operates the only facility currently able to ….fuel the Natrium….”

    So, we’re going to be dependent on financing the Russians and their unprovoked wars to get fuel for this thing?

    Seriously?

  5. The US Navy experimented with and declined to deploy this type of reactor, which does not have a good safety record. For coolant it uses one of the most corrosive substances known. What could go wrong?

  6. I hope Wyoming will consider alternative power with out Nuclear. This is a test project and too many unanswered questions on where the waste will be stored, etc

  7. I have a friend in Kemmerer who lost her lease in Kemmerer this past week. She was looking for a new home to rent. She commented on Facebook that there was no place to rent and that those that were available had doubled in price. Kemmerer is not ready for what is coming at them. When we had the boom in Evanston we had what was called the Overthust Industrial Association that was a consortium of industrial partners made up of about hundred and thirty companies including Union Pacific, Amoco and Chevron that provided assistance in getting us ready for the boom. They provided help finding money and assistance for infrastructure and other things in Evanston. I would hope that that Kemmerer might get that same kind of assistance. There assistance was invaluable.

  8. Hello,
    The proposed nuclear reactor is only in early testing in China. This technology if proven safe has many years of Federal approval that would allow such asset to safely operate in USA. A 2028 in-service date is ridiculously optimistic and brings another question. What if this is just a brilliant PR effort on PACs side to calm down about 500 angry coal miners watching their town kiss the dust just like thousands in the past. There is no nuke heading to Wyoming anytime in this decade.

    1. I hope you are correct!! we have too many other alternatives, I would love to see more hydroelectric as there is no waste, multi use power.