Gov. Mark Gordon smiles at the podium while U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) stands behind him during the press conference announcing efforts to advance a Natrium reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant June 2, 2021, inside the Wyoming Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Wyoming will become “ground zero” as home to the first of a new generation of nuclear power plants to be developed via a diverse public-private partnership that includes Bill Gates, officials announced Wednesday.

The advanced nuclear energy demonstration plant will replace one of four coal-fired plants in PacifiCorp’s Wyoming power system: either Jim Bridger near Rock Springs, Naughton in Kemmerer, Dave Johnston near Glenrock or WyoDak in Campbell County. The Natrium Reactor Project is expected to produce an operating nuclear power plant in Wyoming within seven years, the first of its kind in the U.S., generating jobs in construction and operations. 

Other details have yet to be made public, including an exact timeline for construction and funding specifics, and some have concerns about issues like waste and water use. But state and federal officials gathered to announce the news Wednesday morning from the Capitol Building shared rosy projections about the project’s implications for Wyoming’s economy and the state’s role on the cutting edge of energy technologies. 

“Today’s announcement really, truly is game-changing and monumental for Wyoming,” Gov. Mark Gordon said during the Wednesday press event.

The multi-billion dollar project is a joint effort of PacifiCorp, TerraPower and the U.S. Department of Energy that is expected to produce a 345-megawatt power plant in Wyoming. 

Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is also founder and chairman of TerraPower. In a recorded video statement, Gates said the Natrium project is designed to represent a dramatic change in performance, safety and cost of nuclear energy. It is his hope, he said, that the project will be successful by building “off the foundation laid by Wyoming’s energy workforce.

TerraPower Founder and Chairman Bill Gates speaks in a recorded video message during the press conference announcing efforts to advance a Natrium reactor demonstration project in Wyoming June 2, 2021, inside the Wyoming Capitol in downtown Cheyenne. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

“Wyoming has been a leader in energy for over a century, and we hope that our investment in Natrium will allow Wyoming to stay in the lead for many decades to come,” Gates said. 

The advanced nuclear plant would employ a 345-megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system. Its thermal storage has the potential to boost the system’s output to 500-megawatts of power for more than five-and-a-half hours when needed. The system slated to come to Wyoming is a demonstration project, with developers hoping to see the Natrium system in use nationwide.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the Biden administration sees the Natrium project as a starting point for replacing fossil-fuel-generated power in the U.S. in a way that doesn’t leave mining communities in the cold. 

“I think that’s how we can leave fossil energy communities who have literally powered our country and our economy for decades,” Granholm said in a live video stream. “We can lead them into the clean energy future. They empowered our past — we want them to power our future. As with the president’s proposal, the American Jobs Plan, this administration will see to it that we launched more nuclear energy demonstration projects across the country.” 

Earlier in the year, Gordon set a goal for Wyoming to capture more carbon than it emits, underscoring what he has long touted as the state’s potential for developing carbon capture technology. Gordon was adamant Wednesday that he still sees fossil fuels as part of the state’s energy portfolio going forward.

“I am not going to abandon any of our fossil fuel industries,” he said. “It is absolutely essential to our state.”

Utility shift

PacifiCorp unveiled plans in late 2019 to retire multiple coal-fired electrical generating units in the region ahead of schedule, including at the state’s Jim Bridger and Naughton plants. It was one of many recent blows to the ailing coal industry, which state lawmakers have been working to prop up even as market forces create a decline. 

Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, the Wyoming, Idaho and Utah business unit of PacifiCorp, said coal plants will need to be retired and replaced with something that adds reliable power to the grid, though he noted that the Natrium news won’t trigger an accelerated effort to close coal plants in Wyoming.

PacifiCorp’s Dave Johnston coal-fired power plant just outside Glenrock is one of the locations identified for the site of the Natrium advanced nuclear plant, which was announced June 2, 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“The economics will stand on their own as to whether coal plants will continue operating or not,” Hoogeveen said. 

But with a goal of decarbonization while supplying constant power to customers, Hoogeveen said nuclear power will be critical to add to the mix. 

“We know as a utility in the utility industry, like everyone else does in the utility industry, that you can’t do 100% renewable and battery power and serve 24/7 — not with the current technology that we have,” he said. “That’s what’s so exciting about today, because this technology can allow us to provide carbon-free electricity 24/7, 365. And that is amazing. There’s no other word for it.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who also attended the Wednesday announcement, emphasized the bipartisan nature of policy from Washington, D.C., that has pushed the issue to the forefront. He specifically cited the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which he helped introduce and usher through Congress.

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Even with a united front of diverse public and private interests backing the project, Barrasso said “there are a lot of hoops to jump through,” noting that the multi-agency regulatory process will be extensive. Chris Levesque, TerraPower CEO and president, said there’s a Congressional mandate, however, to move it forward expeditiously. Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced its goal to achieve net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 and a carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. 

“The motivator is that we need this clean energy on the grid by the 2030s,” Levesque said. “Congress created a real sense of urgency with that.” 

It was less clear, however, how much the project would ultimately cost. It will be a 50-50 cost share between the private sector, TerraPower in this case, and the public, Levesque said. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded TerraPower $80 million in 2020 to demonstrate its Natrium technology.

“It’s a public-private partnership, really, and risk-sharing between companies like TerraPower, and the government, frankly,” Levesque said. 

Several of the project’s proponents noted Wednesday that Natrium reactors would produce two-thirds less waste than the 95 water-cooled plants currently operating in the U.S. The Department of Energy has committed to managing nuclear waste from plants around the country, Levesque said. 

Wyoming lawmakers have long flirted with establishing a temporary storage facility for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in the state, and in 2019 briefly showed interest in legislation that would authorize the governor’s office to study whether storing nuclear waste in Wyoming communities would be viable. The subject was dropped after it was made clear the governor didn’t need legislative authorization to work with the Department of Energy on the matter. 

Gordon said Wednesday that Wyoming “did not want to be a waste repository for the rest of the nation.” 

“Just to stress, this is not a way of solving the nation’s waste problems on Wyoming’s back,” Gordon said. 

Dave Eskelsen surveys the Unit 3 coal grinder at the Naughton Power Plant. The unit shut down in January of 2019. Plant manager Rodger Holt, behind him, looks down from the two-story-high machine that environmental regulations and market forces have sidelined. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

There would also be opportunities, Barrasso said, to boost Wyoming’s uranium mining, which could supply the reactors. As the No. 1 uranium producer in the nation, he said it’s a great opportunity to provide energy security. 

“We’ve had Russia flooding the market with uranium, and we want to make sure we have a stable source from a standpoint of national security, and Wyoming is the best place to do it,” he said. 

While applauding the effort to reduce carbon emissions, Marcia Westkott, chair of the landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council, said there are questions about employing an “experimental and unproven” technology. She called the announcement premature as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to license a design. 

Levesque noted during the press conference that there hadn’t been a “great track record” of licensing in the U.S. for about 20 years, but that Barrasso’s nuclear bill would empower the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to streamline the process.

The PRBRC also has questions about the cost to build the facility, how much water would be used and how waste would be stored, Westkott said. Uranium mining would not replace lost revenue from coal, she said, as there are no royalties and a significantly smaller amount of severance tax generated.

Ultimately, Westkott said Wednesday’s announcement was a diversion from answering Wyoming’s most pressing questions about its economy. 

“Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this latest claim of a ‘silver bullet’ to save Wyoming’s economy is that it once again diverts attention away from our very real crisis in revenue, jobs and community survival,” Westkott said. “Wyoming’s elected leaders have still not come forward with a real plan to address lost jobs, declining revenues and the dissolution of coal communities. This speculative feasibility study will not do that.”

This story is supported by a grant through Wyoming’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and the National Science Foundation.

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  1. Folks, PLEASE think long and hard before approving this. Especially keep your eyes and ears turned toward Bill Gates. Thank you for listening.

  2. Lots of hoopla, lots of cheering & backslapping, lots of moaning & horror stories. How often have situations like this (not nuclear power plants specifically, just projects/plans in general) been waved about with all the accompanying ethos, pathos, & logos, only to die quietly without a single shovelful of earth ever turned. It will be interesting to see if it actually comes to fruition.

  3. I don’t know this, but does Gillette get their power from Rocky Mountain Power? I thought it came from Black Hills Energy?

    1. The Wyodak coal plant in Gillette is operated by PacifiCorp. It is co-owned with Black Hills Energy. PacifiCorp has the controlling interest in the plant and Black Hills has the mine (and the other power plants at the complex). It’s a busy site. PacifiCorp has interests in coal plants outside of its service territory, including other states like MT and Colstrip, but here in WY as well.

  4. Would love to live in a Wyoming with pollution free energy generation!! Nuclear partially spent fuel has injured exactly no one! On a death per megawatt generated basis nuclear power is the SAFEST energy generation technology out there by far, including renewables. Also, the Natrium technology generates 2/3 less spent fuel AND potentially has the capability of reutilizing spent fuel from todays reactors. Welcome to the energy future and Wyoming can be a part of it! Congratulations to all of you living there!

  5. There is nothing new or ” advanced” about a sodium metal cooled fast reactor, nor the use of molten salts for latent heat banking. Both the USA and Soviet Union built sodium cooled reactors in the early 1950’s. Russia still operates the only two sodium cooled reactors in operation today . ( rumor of a plant in China are hard to confirm ) Many have tried: the UK , France, Japan, India, Germany . Fast sodium cooled reactors were operated by the US Navy at its atomic proving ground in central Idaho beginning in the 50’s concurrently with ramping up the so-called nuclear Navy technology.

    We should be cognizant that the type of reactor being proposed runs on an isotopic mix of Uranium and our dangerous friend Plutonium. Flag that.

    I cannot tell from the press releases or deeper searching what if anything Natrium / Terra are doing this time around that is new or advanced on the front end with the reactor itself. I’m skeptical. It’s more PR than techspeak to say this project is ” NextGen” . It’s merely the unshelving of old existing tech to take advantage of Senator Barrasso’s dubious regulatory enabling legislation , which should have been named the Barrasso-Faustian Bargain Fast Track Nuclear Licensing Act of 2019. That’s the only reason he’s in the photo op. Political publicity, not progressive energy policy. Barrasso subsists on cameras and microphones.

    One thing I do know is this type of reactor does nothing to reduce the amount of ” hot” radioactive waste to deal with for the next few millennia. The half life of Plutonium is only 24,100 years and Uranium 235 ‘s half life is 700 million years. So there is that. The use of molten salts to store vast quantities of heat to be used as needed is proven tech, and raise no red or yellow flags , per se. But have you ever seen the classic high school chemistry class demonstration of watching what metallic sodium does when it comes in contact with water ? It instantaneoulsly created a vast amount of free hydrogen ultra-volatile gas and spontaneously ignites it. Spectacular stuff. And the teacher was only using a piece the size of a pea.

    As for the economics, when Barrasso and Guv Gordo or anyone else tells us this project will wake up the Wyoming uranium industry from its coma is either ignorant or duplicitous. Or both. The Wyoming uranium mining sector is monetarily morbid because of the global market, and this project is far from a jump starter. If they further believe that Natrium/Terra will create a uranium pre-or post processing tech-based industry inside the Wyoming state boundaries , closed loop because the yellowcake is already here , is using shoddy magical thinking. The entire USA including Wyoming has a fraction of one percent of the world’s uranium reserves. No boom coming here. At least Pacific Power is being honest about why they are buying in on the downstream side to sell any resultant electricity to their existing customers , given their adamancy about dumping any coal-fired power. Pacific Power would buy wholesale kilowatt hours from a generator burning Seagull guano ( cleanly , of course) to offset coal if it were available.

    The Bottom Lines are Guv Gordon and Sen Barrasso are using Bill Gates’ billions to sell refurbished atomic power into a new political business climate. I would say it’s a heckuva lot of lipstick on an old Sow.

    One of the other commentors here alluded to the proper direction any progressive nuclear power generation plan should take: fertile Thorium breeder reactors , not Uranium or Plutonium. Thorium is the future of nuclear power generation , with caveats. And there is five times as much thorium in the Earth’s crust than uranium. There’s one other thing going for thorium that should interest Wyoming: it is generally derived from or alongside the processing of ores to yield Rare Earth minerals. If you delve into Rare Earth production you can also produce thorium right along with it , and vice verse. Win-win if you ignore that guy over in the corner named Faust. Something to consider, given Wyoming could be at the forefront of new Rare Earth production if it wanted to.

    So far, this latest Natrium/Terra/ Pacific Power/Bill Gates-Warren Buffet /Barrasso/Gordon Pan-Wyoming scheme is mostly just hyperbole. All those players had urgency to get something on the table , out in public view. Done.

    1. The US successfully operated the Fast Flux Test Facility liquid sodium reactor at Hanford WA in the 80s and 90s and it performed flawlessly.. It was cancelled by the Clinton administration. The Integral Fast Reactor (liquid stadium reactor)) was also constructed in Idaho in the 90s and demonstrated walk away safe operation and spent fuel reprocessing to get rid of long lived actinides.. It was extremely successful but cancelled by the Clinton administration with the help of John Kerry and Joe Biden in the mid 90s. It’s design led to the GE Prism design which is the design the Natrium is evolved from. Bottom line, the US has extensive recent experience in liquid sodium reactor design and operation. Natrium will be an incredible modern and safe reactor.

  6. Article: “…Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the Biden administration sees the Natrium project as a starting point for replacing fossil-fuel-generated power in the U.S. in a way that doesn’t leave mining communities in the cold. ‘I think that’s how we can leave fossil energy communities who have literally powered our country and our economy for decades,’ Granholm said….’We can lead them into the clean energy future. They empowered our past — we want them to power our future. As with the president’s proposal,…this administration will see to it that we launched more nuclear energy demonstration projects across the country.’ ”

    Sounds like the Biden crew is actually coming up with ideas to move things forward in Wyoming.

    I’m skeptical of nuclear. We’ve seen this movie before. Just look at Jeffrey City and Shirley Basin.

    But it’s nice to see SOMEONE is actually coming up with actual proposals and getting results.

    Still, the politicians should temper their enthusiasm. We’re only talking about one, smallish reactor that won’t be running for probably 10 years.

  7. OH GOODY! So close down the oil and gas in Wyoming and throw in a nuclear plant! Then when we have leaks it can infect our wildlife, that some of us still live on, and in our water we all drink, and in loved ones and OUR CHILDREN! Who is saying this is the answer?????? Because I’m sure your not speaking for the MAJORITY of Wyomingites! Talk about killing resources and people! And they worry about global warming what does radioactive energy do? Its going to kill alot more things alot quicker that Global Warming has WTH

    1. you really haven’t read about nuclear energy have you?

      google is available to educate yourself. accurate information is important.

  8. Is there a way to fight this? Nuclear power isn’t the way to go! I’m worried for our health from the nuclear waste that is produced from nuclear power. Why don’t people care for our health.

  9. Ha, ha. Medicine show number one, and they swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker. Can’t wait to see what shows up next.

  10. You say this is going to bring jobs to the state of Wyoming. I have to disagree because what will happen with the so called jobs like all the other projects that have been brought into Wyoming, there won’t be qualified workers already here and the management will bring in more qualified employees to work this plant before, during and after construction. Once the plant is operational, more experienced employees will more than likely be transferred in to run the new plant because Wyomingites are qualified enough. Again, the public wasn’t consulted about this. I understand that Wyoming has a big deficit in the budget but do the people of Wyoming really need to buckle to nuclear power that can open a whole new realm of problems in the future.

  11. Upon retirement in one year I planned to move from Washington state to Wyoming, to start a business. Not now. I will choose another state. In Washington we have the Hanford nuclear plant in Eastern Washington which has caused serious illnesses and deaths to many people including ‘down-winders’ (people living downwind from the plant). There has also been corruption surrounding serious issues at the plant. These issues are not generally reported.
    So Warren Buffet (PacifiCorp), and Bill Gates (TerraPower), assist in getting the coal plants closed and then they replace them with their own plants. Who owns the land? Tax payers will pay for at least half of the building and implementation costs and then pay for the product, while Buffet and Gates take home the profits. You also won’t find Buffet, Gates, Sen Barrasso or Gov Gordon living near a plant or downwind from one, nor will they ever work in one, therefore never risking their own lives. Notice how it was under-cover all this time during the planning, until Wyoming citizens were just TOLD it would happen. The people of Wyoming were not asked for their approval. The globalists just TOLD them it was going to happen to them. Once again, it demonstrates that citizens, as mere underlings, are just an unimportant side-note. To the people of Wyoming, please look long and hard at this. This shiny object is not as nice and pretty as it appears. It is rotting on the side you cannot see.

    1. Wait a minute, I thought the globalists were more concerned with trafficking children to harvest their adenochrome? Now they are focusing on nuclear power?

      They’ve diversified quickly.

  12. WE were glad to see the announcement about a nuclear demo in Wyoming. My associates and I have been advocates for advanced nuclear power since 2010, but not for todays nuclear tech. We have been promoting a vastly superior design, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor(LFTR). It solves or mitigates most of the problems that folks associate ‘with today’s nuclear. All the other comments have been negative, without good reason in our opinion. How does Bill Gates love life figure in? Both he and Melinda Gates have both promoted clean renewable energy including nuclear. No nuclear plant in the U.S. leaks radiation, it is safely stored in dry cask storage on site at nuclear power plants. Although the Thorcon reactor is not a LFTR, it does use molten salt in its design. It would release far less radioactivity than a coal plant that exhausts uranium, mercury arsenic, and other pollutants that come with the mined coal. These pollutants never become safe. We could go on but we believe that most negative reactions no longer have a good basis in fact.

  13. Nuclear energy. Governor Gordon, senator Borrasso and Bill Gates. Now there is an unholy triad. Fortunately the nuclear fantasy in Wyoming will Never happen. the Legislature will waste hundreds of millions while Gates will lose interest and look for another toy to play with and Borrasso will claim credit without ever doing one decent thing
    On the positive side in Wyoming, coal and oil are both dying, becoming stranded assets as we speak. Wyoming now has a real opportunity to become a healthy progressive state. Just kidding, never happen.

  14. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a 140 page study on next generation nuclear reactors (including this one), entitled: “Advanced” Isn’t Always Better. It’s worth a read (perhaps the executive summary) as some background.

    Greg Fladager
    Cheyenne

  15. Can we really trust Bill Gates? A 20-year affair and a recent divorce have just come out in the new in past few months. And now, Wyoming leaders want to “marry up” with him!

    1. Is bill gates any worse than chrump? Multiple marriages, divorces, infidelity, bankruptcies, court cases, lies, etc….

      Wyoming had no problem “marrying” up with the orange disappointment so I don’t see how gates is worse than that. At least bill gates is truly self made.

    2. No. But Bill’s marriage and this have nothin’ in common except that he invested in both. Perhaps all marriages should end every three years with the option to renew.

      All for the program it won’t fix WY’s issues but better than a snocone stand in Kemmerer.

  16. “The advanced nuclear energy demonstration plant will replace one of four coal-fired plants in PacifiCorp’s Wyoming power system: either Jim Bridger near Rock Springs, Naughton in Kemmerer, Dave Johnston near Glenrock or WyoDak in Campbell County. The Natrium Reactor Project is expected to produce an operating nuclear power plant in Wyoming within seven years, the first of its kind in the U.S., generating jobs in construction and operations.”

    Dave Johnson sits next to the North Platte River. Can you imagine the harm when nuclear waste leaks into that!!!

  17. Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) writes:
    “More than a quarter million metric tons of highly radioactive waste sits in storage near nuclear power plants and weapons production facilities worldwide, with over 90,000 metric tons in the US alone. Emitting radiation that can pose serious risks to human health and the environment, the waste, much of it decades old, awaits permanent disposal in geological repositories, but none are operational. With nowhere to go for now, the hazardous materials and their containers continue to age. That unsustainable situation is driving corrosion experts to better understand how steel, glass, and other materials proposed for long-term nuclear waste storage containers might degrade. Read on to learn how these researchers’ findings might help protect people and the environment from waste leakages.”

    So there is that, Governor Gordon.

    1. Much of the existing waste sitting around is just fuel for fast reactors, like what is proposed.