Nuclear plant moving forward

An artist’s rendering of a TerraPower Natrium nuclear power plant is shown above. (COURTESY/TerraPower)

A webinar was held on Aug. 4 for TerraPower representatives to present their pre-application emergency design plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The session was open to stakeholders and interested parties. Some of those attending virtually included representatives from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and the Wyoming Resource Council, among others.

Andy Hallmark, a spokesman for TerraPower, responded via email to an enquiry from the Gazette as to the purpose of the meeting.

“TerraPower met with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Aug 4 to discuss our emergency preparedness methodology. This was a pre-application meeting designed to be a collaborative discussion where feedback is expected. There was natural give-and-take on the topic throughout the webinar,” Hallmark said.

NRC Public Affairs Officer Scott Burnell said the purpose of the meeting was to develop a common understanding between TerraPower and NRC staff of what the company will have to submit in their future application in order to build its facility. Burnell said they hold pre-application meetings on a regular basis in order to avoid unnecessary delays in reviewing the full application.

“The basic topic of the meeting was TerraPower’s plans for meeting the NRC’s emergency preparedness requirements,” Burnell said. “A very condensed summary of their presentation is that they believe they can show the potential effects of any event at the proposed site would stay within the site’s fenceline. The NRC will fully evaluate any such information in the company’s full application, expected next year.”

Questions were raised during the webinar regarding TerraPower’s request for rule change and methodology. NRC responded that further discussion and more information were needed to support the current plan from TerraPower.

Hallmark responded to those concerns in his email.

“We will license the Natrium reactor through the NRC’s 10 CFR 50 process,” he said. “The current regulations are focused on existing large light water reactors. The NRC has acknowledged that changes in regulatory approaches will be required for the design and operation of advanced reactors, such as Natrium. Therefore, we will continue to work through these differences with the NRC before we submit our application in 2023. This is a normal part of any licensing process.”

Michele Irwin, southwest Wyoming organizer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC), attended the webinar and expressed some concerns with TerraPower’s proposed plan.

“Powder Basin Resource Council is not in support of nuclear until the question of what to do with the waste is addressed,” Irwin said. “There are so many factors involved. We have to be responsible in our choices for a community; what will the rates for electricity be for the citizens, the environmental and conservation concerns, and finding a source for the uranium. Currently, in Wyoming, there is zero severance tax on uranium and that raises another question of creating more waste from it.”

Irwin’s responsibilities with PRBRC are to research local issues and to develop grassroots leadership in communities to ensure responsible energy transition away from coal. She works with community residents to develop an integrated resource plan that is in the best interest of the community. 

“Lots of people in the coal community are concerned about what will replace the revenue from coal,” Irwin said. “They are also concerned with cost, safety, quality of life in the choices that leaders make for alternatives to coal. They want to look at all alternative utilities and choose the resources that make the most sense.”

Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir said he did not attend the webinar as he was not aware of it, but said he is very positive about the nuclear facility being built in Kemmerer.

“I can’t imagine the progress of the plant going any better — despite the rumors,” Muir said. “The soil testing went well and they found the Kemmerer site to be perfect for the location of the Natrium advanced nuclear reactor. We’re excited to have them start building the permanent sodium testing facility in the spring 2023, when about 150 workers will come to Kemmerer. In addition to the nuclear jobs, the sodium testing facility will bring about a dozen permanent jobs as a boost to the Kemmerer economy.”

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