By Rana Jones
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
KEMMERER — Microsoft billionaire and TerraPower Chairman Bill Gates toured the Naughton Power Plant in Kemmerer on Friday and saw where TerraPower will build a nuclear reactor before conducting a press conference that afternoon.
“Getting things right here will be a big part of how we keep electricity reliable and keep the United States at the forefront of providing energy technology to the entire world,” Gates told locals who packed a room at the Best Western Fossil Country Inn. “The United States has had some challenges with energy security, and bringing nuclear into the mix is going to help relieve those problems.”
He expressed his gratitude to the community, thanking it for its support and feedback.
“We are committed to the project and working closely with you,” he told the crowd. “We are committed to listening to and addressing concerns. This will be exciting to create together.”
“We have noticed people in Wyoming have a high energy IQ,” said TerraPower president and CEO Chris Levesque, who introduced Gates. “You have been powering our country and economy with energy for decades, and that makes this a great place to build this plant and develop this technology.”
Gov. Mark Gordon was in attendance, along with Wyoming’s lone U.S. Rep Harriet Hageman, who was in Kemmerer for a town hall meeting she held Friday morning.
Gates said he looks forward to seeing the nuclear plant as it becomes reality and is thrilled to start a partnership with the community of Kemmerer.
“There are a lot of skills here that come from electric generation,” he said. “Today I learned that 80% of the skill sets in our plant are the skills that would come from any form of electric generation; 20% are going to be unique, so we have Western Wyoming Community College talking about training to make sure that piece goes well.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Gates said, “This is a very innovative plant design making nuclear even safer and more economic without large complex overruns and less waste. This is a design that has been 12 years in the making, and part of the reason it is such a powerful design is we are in an age where you can simulate all aspects of the reactor and test out the temperature and extreme conditions such as earthquakes.”
He acknowledged the project will likely see some bumps in the road.
“We will have challenges building it in real life, but we have put a lot of innovation in this to keep it simple and make sure we don’t run into surprises as we move along. Because this is the first of its kind, this plant is pioneering a lot of things.”
He said the design of the Kemmerer plant will be modeled throughout the United States.
“Getting things right here will be a big part of how we keep electricity reliable and keep the United States at the forefront of providing energy technology to the entire world,” he said. “The United States has had some challenges with energy security, and bringing nuclear into the mix is going to help relieve those problems.”
TerraPower Director of Plant Delivery Mark Werner gave an overview of the nuclear facility design. He said the test facility will be the first building on-site and will be operational while the rest of the plant is being constructed.
Here the company will be testing and qualifying equipment such as reactor coolant pumps, control drive mechanisms, and refueling equipment inside the reactor. These will be tested at temperatures equivalent to what is inside the reactor.
“This is a sophisticated facility,” Werner said. “There is none other like it in the country.”
He said the facility will be operated by about 30 to 40 engineers and operators.
In regard to fuel waste, Werner told the Gazette, “Much like traditional nuclear power plants, we refuel the reactor at some interval. Discharged fuel rods come out, we clean them of the sodium and put them in our spent fuel pool.”
The site will be able to store up to 10 years of spent fuel, at which point it goes into a dry cask system.
“The dry cask storage tanks are extremely robust,” Werner said. “Every nuclear power plant in the U.S. has them.”
Gates lauded Wyoming’s prominent role in energy production.
“There are people here that understand better than I the strengths of Wyoming’s energy — whether it is coal, natural gas, wind, solar or nuclear. Wyoming has strengths that it brings to every one of those forms of energy,” he said. “I made a trip with Warren Buffett to the Powder River Basin, and that was fascinating. There are amazing companies there doing their work.”
Gates also addressed how the power generated by nuclear energy will be used.
“The infrastructure is here,” he said. “Over time, if the state is going to be transporting more power, the transmission capabilities will have to get even stronger.”
He also reiterated the necessity for proper training.
“The issue about skills is important,” Gates said, “and it is great to see the workforce training coming together.”
Levesque said he knows there is much anticipation about the nuclear project, but as of yet there is not a great deal of activity in Kemmerer. He said most of the effort is still offsite, with around 900 engineers working on the project.
“There is a lot that will be coming Kemmerer’s way,” Levesque said. “There are many studies that nuclear plants are a great source of local tax revenue.”
He mentioned other communities with nuclear plants that have quality fire stations, police stations and schools.
“These communities have really well-paying jobs,” he said. “We are proud to be enabling that for Kemmerer. We look forward to making power and helping this community pivot and be a part of creating a new future.”
TerraPower Vice President and Project Director Tara Neider said the company is still on schedule with the project to be complete by 2030.
The energy permit will be submitted by next spring to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Neider said TerraPower hopes to get it granted by 2026.
TerraPower will also have to submit an operating license after construction, as fuel cannot be loaded in the plant without licensing in hand.