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Major nuclear expansion is being explored in the Mountain West

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming, in 2018. (J. David Ake/AP/File)
(J. David Ake/AP/File)
The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming, in 2018. Glenrock is one of the locations that has been considered for a Natrium reactor by TerraPower.

News brief:

Five nuclear power plants could be built in the Mountain West by 2035 through a partnership between the nuclear technology company TerraPower and regional utility PacifiCorp.

Last week the two companies announced a joint study to evaluate potential sites for their advanced Natrium reactors, which are smaller than typical energy facilities and may offer a way to transform coal-fired plants into zero-emission power generators. Locations in Wyoming and Utah with energy expertise, infrastructure connecting to the power grid and strong safety records are likely to be considered.

TerraPower, founded and funded by Bill Gates, made headlines last year when it launched a first-of-its-kind demonstration project to replace a retiring coal-fired power plant in the town of Kemmerer, Wyo., with a reactor. The new feasibility study builds on that effort.

“We have been impressed and humbled by our work with the Kemmerer community and PacifiCorp,” said TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque. “We look forward to evaluating new potential sites for Natrium plants that have the same energy expertise and capabilities as our demonstration site.”

Robert Short is a commissioner in Wyoming's Converse County,, which was among the locations being considered before Kemmerer was chosen. He said any additional reactors could provide jobs and tax revenue to communities like his that were disappointed last year.

“It's economically stabilizing,” Short said. “It gives us a positive outlook for years, as opposed to, you know, ‘What are we going to do for the next three months? How's it gonna look in six months?”’

The Kemmerer facility is planned to be operational by 2028 but faces numerous financial and regulatory hurdles.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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