State of Wyoming to install nuclear reactor at retiring coal plant

Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state in the country. However, the Cowboy State is also going to be a pioneer in the emerging industry of building small, modular nuclear reactors.

According to a press release from TerraPower, the company developing the reactor:

TerraPower, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and PacifiCorp today announced efforts to advance a Natrium™ reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The companies are evaluating several potential locations in the state.

Unfortunately, the press release did not give us any information about what the project would cost, but the Casper Star Tribune reports the plant would begin producing electricity by mid-2028. The press release continues:

The project features a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MW 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. 

The company’s innovative design means that the nuclear plant will be able to serve as a baseload power plant that also has the ability to follow electricity demand as it ramps up.

TerraPower is understandably marketing this as a way to incorporate more wind and solar onto the grid, and the flexible nature of the reactor design would theoretically make it good at this. However, given the fact that renewables are too unreliable to be depended upon, one wonders how adding them to the grid will do anything other than increasing the cost of electricity.

Wyoming’s plan to replace coal-fired power plants with new nuclear plants is a much better idea than Minnesota’s expensive combination of wind, solar, and natural gas generators

Nuclear power plants can utilize the existing coal-plant infrastructure to keep costs low and deliver reliable power. Wind and solar require massive transmission line upgrades and “backup” energy sources for when the weather doesn’t cooperate, greatly adding to the total cost of electricity paid for by consumers.

It would be wise for Minnesota Power to replace the retiring coal plants at the Boswell Energy Center with small, modular nuclear reactors, but it is currently illegal to build new nuclear power plants in Minnesota, and liberal State Senators testified against legalizing it.

As I wrote in our Fall 2020 issue of Thinking Minnesota, wind and solar are the energy past, fossil fuels are the energy present, and nuclear power is probably the energy future. The sooner we realize this, the better.