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Western Utility Announces Consideration of Five SMRs for Coal-to-Nuclear Transition

Western Utility Announces Consideration of Five SMRs for Coal-to-Nuclear Transition

Wyoming and Utah are looking to lead the wave of next-generation advanced nuclear energy.

PacifiCorp, the parent company of the western-state regulated utilities Rocky Mountain Power and Pacific Power, announced a partnership on Wednesday with the small modular reactor firm Terrapower. The two firms will be conducting a joint study to evaluate the feasibility of deploying up to five of Terrapower’s innovative Natrium reactors at Rocky Mountain Power’s soon-to-be-retired coal sites in Utah and Wyoming.

According to Power Magazine:

Regulated utility PacifiCorp has launched a joint study with nuclear technology firm TerraPower to evaluate the feasibility of deploying up to five additional Natrium pool-type sodium fast reactors (SFRs) and integrated energy storage systems at retired coal plant sites in the utility’s service territory by 2035.

 

The joint study “will evaluate, among other things, the potential for advanced reactors to be located near current fossil-fueled generation sites, enabling PacifiCorp to repurpose existing generation and transmission assets for the benefit of its customers,” PacifiCorp and TerraPower said in a joint statement on Oct. 27. “The location of future Natrium plants will be thoroughly explored through this study process, and both companies will engage with local communities before any final sites are selected,” they said.

The announcement is just the latest vote of confidence for advanced nuclear power in the mountain west. Terrapower has already announced plans to deploy the first of its Natrium reactors at a retiring coal plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). Construction of that demonstration reactor is slated to begin in 2024, with plans to be fully operation by 2028 per the terms of the ARDP.

Terrapower’s Natrium technology is a sodium-cooled fast reactor with a nameplate capacity of 345 MWe. It’s designed to be deployed with an integrated thermal storage system in the form of molten salt that can be used to ramp up the plant’s output to 500 MWe to help serve peak demand. Its backers hope that this quick dispatchable energy from onsite storage will allow the reactor to complement intermittent renewables better than traditional nuclear plants, which are typically less efficient at ramping up and down.

The announcement also operationalizes a key finding from the Department of Energy last month. In a September study, the Department identified 157 retired coal plant sites and 237 operating coal plant sites that would benefit from transitioning to nuclear power. The same report found five such sites right here in Colorado.

The announcement of the Terrapower-PacifiCorp partnership drew immediate praise from elected officials in the two states that stand to benefit from the advanced nuclear technology.

“This is a big deal—and we are excited to have Utah on the list,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox (R.) tweeted in response to the announcement. “We must continue to support base load power generation while we grow alternative energy sources. If you are serious about decarbonizing emissions, Nuclear absolutely must be a significant part of the solution.”

It’s great to see utilities and governments in western states alike working to foster the future of clean and reliable energy. Kudos to Wyoming and Utah for stepping up to support the deployment of SMR technology.

Policymakers in Colorado should do their part to see that we don’t fall behind our neighboring states when it comes to energy innovation.