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)

TerraPower has selected the Naughton power plant near Kemmerer for its proposed 345-megawatt Natrium nuclear power demonstration plant, the first of many that the company and its partners plan to build in Wyoming and across the world.

Also in the running for site selection were the Jim Bridger power plant near Rock Springs, the Dave Johnston power plant near Glenrock and the WyoDak power plant near Gillette.

While all four locations were well-suited for the project, Kemmerer and the Naughton power plant won out for its skilled labor force and, primarily, because project partner Rocky Mountain Power plans to retire coal-burning units at the plant before the target in-service date of 2028, TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque said Tuesday.

“The extensive examination ultimately led to the selection of Kemmerer, and that decision aligns with our strategy to locate reactors near retiring coal plants.”

Chris Levesque, TerraPower President and CEO

“The ultimate decision came down to various technical criteria,” Levesque said during a press conference. “We collected data and evaluated the information against our regulatory and project requirements. Some of the things we considered were the retirement date of the existing plant in those cities and the alignment with our project schedule.”

Developers also considered the availability of water for cooling, electrical transmission and distribution connections, as well as land availability, Levesque said. The nuclear power plant will not be housed inside the 58-year-old Naughton structure, TerraPower officials indicated, but in a newly built facility near the existing coal-fired power plant.

“The extensive examination ultimately led to the selection of Kemmerer, and that decision aligns with our strategy to locate reactors near retiring coal plants,” Levesque said.

“On behalf of Kemmerer and surrounding communities, we are pleased and excited to host the Natrium demonstration project,” Kemmerer Mayor Bill Thek said in a prepared statement.

TerraPower is backed by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The company’s Natrium project is intended to provide a quickly deployable strategy to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid from fossil fuels to low-emissions clean energy.

Kemmerer area residents listen during a January 2020 Wyoming Public Service Commission hearing. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

TerraPower is partnered with Rocky Mountain Power and the U.S. Department of Energy, which is expected to contribute about $2 billion for the $4 billion project, Levesque said.

Developers expect the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve major permits for the project within three years, which will be key to achieving an in-service date of 2028. That deadline is a condition of the DOE’s support.

Levesque said TerraPower’s confidence in the timeline is rooted in the “American Nuclear Infrastructure Act” championed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming). The law directs the NRC to speed up approvals for new nuclear power. 

“So we expect construction to start in 2024,” Levesque said.

The Natrium design uses liquid sodium as its coolant rather than water, like most nuclear reactors. (The name Natrium comes from the Latin word for sodium.) The solid sodium melts into a liquid form when it gets hot enough. That molten metal is what’s inside the core cooling the reactor vessel and — via a molten salt loop — ultimately allowing a steam turbine to generate electricity.

Some question the viability and safety of the technology, and doubt the feasibility of the timeline that’s been set out. 

The project is expected to draw about 2,000 construction workers and support about 250 full-time jobs when in operation, according to TerraPower.

TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power are working with the governor’s office, University of Wyoming, community colleges and Kemmerer officials to begin to plan to meet workforce needs, as well as preparations to help Kemmerer handle the influx of workers and activity, Levesque 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. In the history of nuclear power plants around the world, EVERY nuclear plant every has had to reply on massive continuing subsidies to be built and continue operating. In the mean time massive doses of nuclear waste continue to build up around the world…

  2. So comforting. Right on cue, as expected, the “experts” who inhabit the WyoFile message boards begin their second-guessing the viability of nuclear power, John Barrasso, safety …..
    No solutions, mind you, just second guessing. Stay focused, Terrapower and Rocky Mtn Power.

  3. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists has provided a more skeptical analysis of the proposed TerraPower nuclear facility. Also interesting the that primary element required in the process is uranium (HALEU) is not readily available in the United States. Centrus Corporation is trying to develop this type of uranium. The CEO of Centrus is former Secretary of Energy under President Obama – Daniel B. Poneman. Likely why the 2 billion from the federal government got allocated to the project.

  4. There is nothing “clean” about any form of nuclear power. To offset a troublesome gas (CO2), we will produce the most toxic substances known, with still no way to safely dispose of the waste. Liquid sodium is flammable when exposed to air and explodes when it comes into contact with water. Read about the near meltdowns. Do not want to be downwind of this deadly scam. Wind and solar farms will provide even more jobs with less danger to Wyoming.

  5. One thing you can bet on: greed will run through Kemmerer’s housing and real estate market starting with this announcement. Paying $400/mo for an apartment? Expect $1200 soon.

  6. By the time those investors/developers/bunco artists finish bankrupting poor ignorant Wyoming all of our state revenues will be stashed in other offshore accounts. And of course that nuclear plant nonsense will never come close to actually operating.

  7. Glad they chose Kemmerer. Gillette was too close for comfort. Wishing everyone there a safe and prosperous project. We can certainly use some good news and cheap power.

  8. Back to the Future.

    The first sodium cooled nuclear reactor came on line in 1957 as a nuclear Navy project. The first commercial use of molten salts was in 1886 to refine the then-rare metal aluminum, but had been used in laboratories since 1809.

    – and Senator Barrasso is getting way more credit than he deserves for any of this , except maybe in the role of the Biff character in Back to the Future who finds the sporting records magazine and uses future history to place safe bets to make unscrupulous money.

    We have seen these movies before.

  9. Great news for Kemmerer. Surprised but a good surprise. The town might have needed one more than the bigger coal mining communities which have more diverse economies.