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The opening of TerraPower’s nuclear plant in Kemmerer will be delayed by two years

TerraPower will build its Natrium demonstration reactor at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming.
TerraPower will build its Natrium demonstration reactor at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming.

The opening date is being delayed for the nuclear plant that is slated to replace the Naughton coal plant near Kemmerer.

The start date will likely be pushed back two years to 2030, according to a press release from the nuclear plant developer TerraPower. The main reason is Russia’s war in Ukraine, as Russia is the only commercial supplier of the highly enriched uranium (HALEU) the plant needs to run.

“...in February 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower, as well as for others in our industry,” TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque said in the release.

Levesque added that the company needs more time to collaborate with the U.S. Congress, the Department of Energy (DOE) and other stakeholders to find a way to source the special fuel in the U.S.

“I think this might actually give our Wyoming uranium industry a little more time to put things together to provide that uranium,” Brian Muir, the city administrator for Kemmerer, said. “So, I see more positives than negatives.”

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is leading efforts in Congress to allocate additional funding to producing the special fuel needed.

“TerraPower’s announcement underscores what I’ve been saying for years: America must reestablish itself as the global leader in nuclear energy. Instead of relying on our adversaries like Russia for uranium, the United States must produce its own supply of advanced nuclear fuel,” said Barrasso in a statement.

Congress has already funded nearly $2 billion for the TerraPower project, and TerraPower is hoping for an additional $2.1 billion to support HALEU development.

Construction of the plant is still on schedule, with work slated to begin in 2023.

“The first step is going to be the sodium testing facility,” Muir said. “In the spring, they’re going to be excavating for, at which they're gonna have about 50 workers then.”

By the mid-2000’s there will be 2,000 workers onsite. Muir said that the bulk of the construction will begin in 2024.

TerraPower still plans to build five more similar reactors in Wyoming and Utah by 2035. They had announced initial plans this fall.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.

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