TerraPower applies for construction permit, plans to break ground by early summer

By Rana Jones, Gazette Reporter
Posted 4/9/24

As the ground thaws, nuclear innovation company TerraPower aims to be ready by late spring or early summer to break ground for the test and fill facility near Kemmerer for its nuclear power site. The …

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TerraPower applies for construction permit, plans to break ground by early summer


As the ground thaws, nuclear innovation company TerraPower aims to be ready by late spring or early summer to break ground for the test and fill facility near Kemmerer for its nuclear power site. The company submitted its construction permit application on Friday, March 29, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is the first application for a commercial advanced reactor to the NRC.

“That’s a big deal,” TerraPower Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin said. “We spent a lot of time working with the NRC in advance so there were no surprises.”

He said the application to begin construction is more than 3,000 pages long and a very detailed document that lays out plans for the reactor and construction designs.

Due to its unique design, non-nuclear construction will begin on the Kemmerer Natrium reactor demonstration project this summer, while nuclear construction will begin after the application is approved. Upon completion, the Natrium plant will be a fully-functioning commercial power plant.

Navin said they expect the application approval for their nuclear license in 36 months and, although they cannot begin construction on the actual nuclear reactor until then, there is construction that can be done in the meantime.

“We can begin construction on the parts of the plant that do not involve any radioactivity or nuclear reactions,” he told the Gazette last week.

They are waiting for a green light from the Department of Energy for the environmental review and then will begin breaking ground and moving dirt this summer.

TerraPower expects to have a public groundbreaking ceremony this summer, acknowledging the advanced nuclear reactor being developed in Kemmerer.

“As people are driving up and down the highway this summer, there will be construction activity and buildings being erected, which will mean construction jobs in the area and some of that economic activity that we know the town is excited about,” Navin said.

The first of their buildings to be constructed in Kemmerer will be the sodium test and fill facility. It will be a place where they work with the sodium coolant, preparing the sodium to be placed into the reactor.

The next building to be built will be a training and visitor center, and as the first of its kind, will receive employees from around the world and provide an opportunity to learn how to operate nuclear reactors.

“The training facility is where not only operators in Kemmerer, but all our future plants will get their training,” he said.

Although they do not have a projected date of completion for the training center, Navin said it will come after the test and fill facility.

“Once we start working on the test and fill facility, there will be a pretty steady drum beat of activity at the site,” he said. They expect to turn the plant on in 2030.

The first wave of construction will start this spring or early summer. The test and fill facility and the training center will be located on-site and contractors will have an opportunity to bid on the projects. Bechtel will be used for the larger construction aspects of the plant itself as they are the contracted engineering construction partner with TerraPower.

Smaller companies may put in bids through Bechtel for various construction projects as the nuclear site progresses. Navin said they expect at the peak of construction there will be about 1,600 construction workers on site.

Navin said TerraPower realizes that Wyoming is rich in uranium and the company plans to use local product for fueling the nuclear plant. Enriching the uranium, however, will need to be outsourced and, for the time being, funded by federal dollars that help support fuel enrichment capabilities in the country.

Navin said their strong preference is using uranium from Wyoming in the fuel cycle, but the choke point is the lack of the enrichment capability.

“We are looking into every option, because the biggest uncertainty at the moment is where and when we will get the fuel,” he said.

TerraPower is hoping the enrichment capabilities will move fast enough to meet their needs for their first fuel load but are planning to have to piece together fuel sources including international resources if needed.

“We have a team of people scouring the globe looking for ways that we can get enough fuel for our first core load so we can meet our timeline,” Navin said.

He said once they get their first core load, they are confident there will be domestic enrichment capability in place that will allow for future fuel reloads.

As uranium mines in the region are coming back online, TerraPower is a member of the Wyoming Mining Association and Navin said they work closely with the group. While demand for coal declines, he said their reactors will be a source of demand for uranium that the mines can provide.

“Wyoming has spent the past 100 years providing coal and electricity for the United States and there is no reason for that not to continue,” Navin said. As Wyoming shifts from providing one source of electricity to another, Navin said they have had support from the mining association.

Stating his appreciation of the high energy IQ of the state, Navin said, “People in the state are aware of everything that goes into producing energy whether it’s coal, oil, gas, or wind. These are complex systems that require a lot of engineering, labor, and upkeep to provide energy, and Kemmerer knows this better than anyone.”

This is, as Navin put it, one of the reasons TerraPower has been so welcomed in Kemmerer.

“Every electron of energy produced requires a lot of work. Nuclear is just another way to produce heat, to make steam, to spin a turbine and keep the lights on,” he said.

Navin said they have remained fully committed to Kemmerer and the nuclear project. With other states in the region looking at coming on board with nuclear, Navin said Kemmerer is paving the way for other nuclear reactors.

“It is starting in Kemmerer. It is really exciting. We love bringing people there and everyone we have brought there loves the town,” he said.

The initial license of operation for TerraPower is 60 years with opportunities for extensions.

“Once you get the plant built, you are assured decades of high-paying jobs in the community,” Navin said. He said TerraPower hopes the plant becomes the backbone for Kemmerer to continue to grow on for years to come.