Thek, Muir join energy panel at Washington conference

By Rana Jones, Gazette Reporter
Posted 5/21/24

Kemmerer received attention at the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA) conference for leading the way as the first community in the country to build a natrium nuclear reactor.

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Thek, Muir join energy panel at Washington conference


Kemmerer received attention at the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA) conference for leading the way as the first community in the country to build a natrium nuclear reactor.

Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir and Mayor Bill Thek traveled to Kennewick, Washington, to attend the meeting and represent their town as a pioneer for TerraPower (a company co-founded by Bill Gates) to build a first-of-its-kind advanced Natrium nuclear reactor.

“We talked about our nuclear plant project and what it means to the community,” Muir said.

With heavy hitters at the forum, including representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, the meeting sets out to bring together federal, state, and local governments to identify opportunities and challenges as well as build the partnerships necessary to support nuclear development.

Whether to diversify regional economies, create clean energy jobs, or meet carbon reduction goals, attendees were able to learn about nuclear energy topics and concerns. Workshops included educating the public about safety, cost, need and benefits of nuclear energy and building state support for nuclear development.

At the workshop addressing nuclear waste, Muir and Thek presented with a panel about nuclear waste storage. They spoke about nuclear waste being stored on site in a nuclear depository until it can be transported to a permanent location. Muir said people wanted to know about the safety of storing nuclear waste.

In the interest of transparency, Muir said experts and safety records show with a level of confidence ways to store waste safely.

“It is safer than it ever has been and there are companies who are prepared to create jobs with the waste industry,” Muir said.

Muir said it is important to have public dialogue and engagement especially where there are concerns such as nuclear waste storage. He also said the majority of people seem to be in agreement that the project is safe and agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Economic Development, Department of Energy, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have all come to Kemmerer to ensure safety.

Dr. Michael Goff, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, was at the conference and talked about trends in nuclear. Muir spoke with Goff about trends and was told that though the forecast of nuclear is still unknown it is gaining more support across the country.

Alhough support is increasing, concerns with fuel supply remains an issue. Officials are pursuing more secure domestic nuclear fuel sources. HALEU, short for “high-assay low-enriched uranium,” is the fuel needed in the TerraPower Natrium nuclear reactor planned for Kemmerer. It offers distinct advantages but faces constraints due to limited domestic supply and restrictions on imports, notably from Russia.

On May 14, the Department of Energy announced that the United States will ban imported Russian enriched uranium starting on Aug. 11. U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, released a statement announcing the end of Russia’s chokehold on America’s uranium supply.

“Banning imports of Russian uranium will jumpstart America’s nuclear fuel industry, further defund Russia’s war machine, and help revive American uranium production for decades to come,” Barrasso said. “As our nation’s leading uranium producer, Wyoming is ready to do our part to power American reactors with American nuclear fuel. Russia’s dominance of the world’s nuclear fuel supply chain is coming to an end.”

One of the primary benefits of HALEU uranium lies in its enhanced safety profile. Additionally, its higher assay level enables more efficient utilization of uranium resources, potentially extending fuel cycles and reducing waste production, a significant step forward in the pursuit of sustainable energy solutions.

Muir said Kemmerer was referred to throughout the conference, especially regarding Bill Gates’ committed investment to the community. He said private funding is an essential part of making the project happen and more of that type of financing is needed for other companies hoping to copy Kemmerer’s model.

“We are the first to market nuclear power to the grid with small modular reactors,” Muir said.

Muir said people at the conference came up to him and said they were jealous of what is coming to the Kemmerer economy.

“It is going well, proving itself and giving people hope. Kemmerer is a prototype for this project and a front runner in this new nuclear renaissance,” he said.

While nuclear energy is gaining traction as a bipartisan solution to escalating energy demands, efforts to improve communication and addressing safety concerns to the public are imperative. In communities like Kemmerer, where TerraPower’s project is gaining momentum, there’s optimism about the economic benefits and the role of nuclear energy in driving local development and yet concerns remain.

As discussions continue, stakeholders stress the importance of proactive engagement and transparent communication to build public trust and support for nuclear energy initiatives. Muir said there needs to be better communication explaining why nuclear is safer.

“Technology and companies are making new nuclear safer. TerraPower’s research shows that the small modular nuclear reactors are safer and more efficient,” he said.

Gates will visit Kemmerer on June 10 for a groundbreaking ceremony at the TerraPower nuclear reactor site.