Officials show support for possible nuclear facility

Naughton Power Plant manager Rodger Holt makes a final point in support of Kemmerer being chosen as the site of a nuclear power plant. “The workers at our plant have an exceptional safety record and would be more than qualified to transfer to a nuclear plant,” Holt said during a June 30 meeting in Kemmerer. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

KEMMERER — Representatives from Kemmerer and surrounding communities, as well as city and state government officials, state and federal agencies, coal miners, Naughton Plant managers and employees, WWCC reps and many other interested parties attended a meeting on Wednesday, June 30, at the South Lincoln Training and Event Center in Kemmerer.  The meeting was held to promote Kemmerer as the site for the first Natrium advanced nuclear demonstration project in Wyoming.

Also attending the meeting to answer questions and provide updated information was the project’s evaluation team — Gary Hoogeveen, President and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque and Tara Neider, Senior Vice President of Program Development & Natrium Project Director.

Terra Power will work with PacifiCorp to identify a site for the Natrium demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. Kemmerer — along with three other Wyoming cities (Rock Springs, Glenrock and Gillette) — is being considered for the first demonstration site. Before making a decision as to which city is chosen as the site for the project, members of the project team will visit each site multiple times.   

Criteria for selecting a site involves identifying community support for the project, evaluating the physical aspects of the potential site, the ability of the site to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, access to existing infrastructure and the needs of the grid. A final decision on the site chosen will be towards the end of 2021.

Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir began the meeting by showing the nuclear project team the reasons why the ‘sister cities’ of Kemmerer and Diamondville meet their criteria, and should be selected as the site for the project.

“We have the infrastructure needed at the coal plant site; we have 250 rooms in hotels and motels; 85 plus RV spots; 23 houses on the market plus some cabins; 290 acres available for development; water — Lake Viva Naughton; close proximity to SLC airport and contractors; knowledgeable skilled workers; and the support of surrounding communities,” Muir said.

Kemmerer additionally has an airport, a 600-capacity event center, a recreation center, a golf course, an outdoor swimming pool, a variety of retail businesses including the first J.C. Penney store and great schools.

“Above all, Kemmerer is a safe and healthy community that is family and business friendly,” Muir said.

Muir encouraged all to check out the Kemmerer/Diamondville website and then asked the TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power representatives to address the audience, as well as answer questions.

Speaking first, Hoogeveen told the group he was excited to continue the discussion with them regarding possibilities for the community, and that Rocky Mountain Power sees the advanced nuclear reactor as an opportunity for Wyoming.

“We want to provide energy at the lowest cost for our customers and we have to have reliable power sources by investing in renewables and in the state of Wyoming,” he said. “Nuclear will effectively integrate with the renewables of solar and wind to keep the lights on.”

Levesque told the group that nuclear energy has been around since the 1960s, and there are 100 nuclear plants in the US which have proven to be very safe. He said TerraPower is moving towards new technology for new plants which is ten times safer. Bill Gates, who has been with TerraPower for 14 years, has invested a half-billion dollars in the project, which is totally privately funded. TerraPower is ready for their first demonstration project, and chose Wyoming due to the states’ energy needs and climate.   

“We were here six weeks ago to look at the property, and we met with Gov. Gordon, who is favorable to the project,” Levesque said.

The meeting moved toward a question and answer session. The first question from an audience member was, “Why did they choose Wyoming?”

“It makes sense to financially invest in an area where we are retiring a coal plant, because there is the infrastructure needed, including transmission lines and water,” Hoogeveen answered. “Secondly, employees [are ready to go] that can be utilized with a little training around nuclear safety. Third, it is exciting for the communities.”

Levesque added, “Keep in mind, this is an advanced nuclear reactor, and the Natrium system enhances safety, relying on natural forces and advanced design.”

The project features a 345 megawatt, sodium-cooled reactor, with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 megawatts of power for more than five and a half hours when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes. It can also go down to 190 megawatts if necessary.

According to Neider, they will be using uranium from North Carolina, which is enriched at centers in Ohio. The reactor still uses nuclear fusion, but they have a safer technology, which relies on natural forces like gravity and hot air rising to cool the reactor if an unexpected shutdown occurs. 

Other questions from the audience involved the storing of waste, as well as how many employment opportunities the project will create. Responses came from both Neider and Levesque, and they also referred to the handout attendees had received. 

The Natrium technology reduces the volume of waste per megawatt hour of energy produced by two-thirds because of the efficiency with which the reactor uses the fuel. Liquid sodium will be used for cooling. Sodium cools to 500 degrees, and the boiling temperature of sodium is 800 degrees, which gives a 300-degree margin for safety. 

The waste the Natrium reactor does produce will be stored safely and securely at the same site as the reactor, until the U.S. identifies a permanent geologic repository. No waste will be accepted from out of state at the facility.

The team estimated that approximately 1500 craft workers and about 500 non-manual workers will be needed for construction at the project’s peak. Estimated workforce numbers for ongoing operations — including plant security — would be around 250. A study by the Energy Futures Initiative found that nuclear workers, on average, are paid more than workers in any other energy sector.

“Once we choose a site, we have to do a construction application with a safety analysis, EPA data and submit it to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Neider said. “Once we get the permit, it will take about 36 months to construct the facility.”

She outlined the following steps involved, which can take up to seven years before the plant will be operating. During the construction, they have to file operating procedures for all employees, then they apply for a license and approval for operation, which includes a sodium and load reactor testing. Neider said it would probably be 2028 before operation begins.

Neider continued, “Our driving force in choosing a site was the question as to who needs the power and is a site available.”

Hoogeveen was asked if they would keep the coal-powered plant running until 2028, and he responded that it would be difficult to burn coal past the year 2025, due to the fact they would have to be compliant with EPA and federal government environmental requirements. He added that Unit 3 has been converted to natural gas, and they are currently looking for options for unit one and two. He said that Rocky Mountain Power has put out an “expression of interest” for carbon capture in Wyoming. Hoogeveen said that coal will definitely stop burning in all power plants, unless they get carbon capture technology.

To address any safety concerns regarding nuclear energy from opposing parties, Levesque said, “As I said before, there are 100 reactors that have been operating in the US since the 1960s, which supply 20% of the nation’s energy needs and have been doing it safely,”   

Neider added that it is important to address the opposition’s concerns directly, as well as provide education through public meetings, which they plan to do in the community once the site is determined. She added that Sen. John Barrasso is a supporter of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, and is actively promoting it. 

Finally, the representatives assured the attendees that all costs of building the demonstration plant would be paid for by TerraPower. Customers would only pay for the cost of the electricity they ultimately use. 

Naughton Power Plant manager Rodger Holt made a final point in support of Kemmerer being chosen as the project’s site.

“The workers at our plant have an exceptional safety record and would be more than qualified to transfer to a nuclear plant,” he said.

The team then asked the audience to send letters of support to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and to the editors of local newspapers. 

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