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Is Wyoming’s first-ever nuclear reactor a good idea? The feds want your input

Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting environmental review to decide whether to grant construction permit for liquid sodium-cooled reactor in Kemmerer.

TerraPower's proposed Natrium nuclear power plant will be located outside Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

by Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to hear from Wyoming residents — and the U.S. public in general — about TerraPower’s Natrium nuclear power project just outside Kemmerer as the agency weighs a construction permit application for the next-generation liquid sodium-cooled reactor.

The federal agency is conducting an environmental review to determine whether to grant the construction permit. In a separate move, TerraPower earlier this month commenced construction on a liquid sodium testing facility, a non-nuclear component that doesn’t fall under the commission’s regulatory authority.

The federal review will consider “the environmental impacts of construction, operation, and decommissioning of the Kemmerer Power Station Unit 1, and reasonable alternatives thereto,” according to the agency’s notice published in the Federal Register. “Possible alternatives to the proposed action include the no-action alternative and alternative sites.”

The Natrium project is under two primary NRC review tracks, each with a safety and environmental component: one to consider the construction permit, and another to consider the operating license. TerraPower plans to submit its operating license application in 2027, which specifically addresses the design and operation of the reactor, and says the project is on track to begin operating in 2030.

More than 300 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony on June 10, 2024, to celebrate the beginning of construction for TerraPower’s Natrium nuclear power plant outside Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The regulatory commission will host a public meeting July 16 in Kemmerer to explain the review process and how to comment. Visit the NRC’s Natrium project website to learn more about the proposal and the agency’s review process.

Public comments regarding the construction permit and environmental review are due Aug. 12. Comments can be submitted via this federal portal.

A first for Wyoming

Though many state and local officials eagerly support the $4 billion Natrium project for jobs and tax revenue, the prospect of Wyoming’s first-ever nuclear reactor has raised many questions for residents as well as the general public.

In November, more than 100 people attended a NRC meeting in Kemmerer and posed questions about whether the agency will evaluate seismic activity in the area, security measures for the potential terrorist target and how radioactive fuel will be transported to the facility and safely stored once spent.

Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) poses a question to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials during a public meeting Nov. 7, 2023, in Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The agency’s review does include analysis for potential seismic activity, NRC staff told residents at the meeting. They assured the commission will maintain partnerships with local emergency managers and statewide authorities, as well as Homeland Security. TerraPower must coordinate with transportation officials and follow federal protocols for moving nuclear fuel to the facility. There is no permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel in the U.S., so the radioactive material will be stored on-site, according to the commission. For how long, nobody knows.

The agency’s multi-pronged review will also evaluate potential impacts to air and water, as well as socioeconomic impacts in the region.

About Natrium

TerraPower claims the Natrium plant will be the first “advanced” nuclear energy facility in the Western Hemisphere. The company touts the design as novel in that it’s much smaller in size compared to the industry standard, generating a consistent 345 megawatts of electricity — enough energy to power about 250,000 homes.

Patricia Vokoun, Mallecia Sutton and William Jessup of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission field questions during a public meeting Nov. 7, 2023, in Kemmerer. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The plant would also be the first commercial-scale nuclear energy facility to use liquid sodium to cool the reactor, which requires less water and acts as an energy storage mechanism to boost generation up to 500 megawatts for short periods.

The nuclear facility will be co-located near the coal-fired Naughton power plant to take advantage of existing infrastructure linking it to the western electricity grid.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.