GILLETTE – Gillette's potential as a site for a new nuclear power plant excites local officials.
Wednesday morning, Gov. Mark Gordon announced that a nuclear power plant will be coming to Wyoming.
The Natrium Reactor is a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Power, the U.S. Department of Energy and TerraPower, a green energy company founded by Bill Gates.
The location has not been announced yet, but Mayor Louise Carter-King made the case for Gillette.
“If there was ever a community that could take a project like this on, it is Gillette,” she said.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Wyoming to stay on the leading edge of energy production," said Campbell County Commissioner D.G. Reardon. “Nuclear power is fairly controversial, but I think if it’s done right it can be done safely.”
Carter-King said the news took her completely by surprise.
She said Rocky Mountain Power called the city at 10 a.m. Wednesday — an hour before Gordon's press conference — wanting to talk to her to let her know that Gillette was “one of the four finalists for this nuclear plant.”
A specific location hasn’t been determined, but it will be at one of four of Rocky Mountain Power's plants in Wyoming: the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs, the Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock, the Naughton plant at Kemmerer or the Wyodak plant near Gillette.
The Wyodak power plant is scheduled to retire in 2039. That retirement date is further out than the other three plants.
Carter-King said Gillette, as the Energy Capital of the Nation, makes the most sense to host the nuclear power plant.
“We are perfect for this project,” she said. “I know, there are a lot of parameters that a nuclear plant needs, and we might not match all of those. But we have the infrastructure, we have the skilled workers, we have classes that we could train whatever we need to to work in a place like this.”
Reardon said it’s too early to know what kind of jobs will be required with the new plant, but “it will require some re-training, and hopefully Gillette College can be part of that.”
“We were all pleasantly surprised that there’s something there on the horizon,” Reardon said.
In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy, through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology.
To date, Congress has appropriated $160 million for the ARDP, and DOE has committed additional funding for the public-private partnership in the coming years, according to the project’s website, wyomingadvancedenergy.com.
Wyoming was chosen for a number of reasons, and one of the most important ones is that the state “is home to highly-skilled, well-trained workers who understand the value of always-on electricity for their communities,” the project’s website reads.
A number of criteria is being considered for the plant’s location, including community support, access to existing infrastructure, the site’s physical characteristics and the grid’s needs.
Reardon said that no matter where the plant is located, if it’s successful, “there could be more rolled out in the future, which could end up in other communities.”
“If it’s successful, why not build four?” Carter-King asked.
Even if Gillette does not get the plant, it is still a big win for the whole state, Reardon said.
“It’s good news in a year of not great news,” Carter-King said.
Carter-King said she’s not worried about a nuclear plant coming to her community because of how highly nuclear power is regulated.
“If it can take the snow (and) the wind,” it’ll be fine, she said.