Bill Gates venture picks Wyoming city for sodium nuke plant

FILE - Bill Gates speaks during the Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum, London, Tuesday, Oct, 19, 2021. A small city in the top U.S. coal-mining state of Wyoming will be home to a Bill Gates-backed experimental nuclear power project near a coal-fired power plant that will soon close, officials announced Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP, File)

CASPER, Wyo. — With just four years left before its coal plant shutters, the southwestern Wyoming town of Kemmerer, population 2,750, has been bracing for a seemingly inevitable loss.

Along with the neighboring coal mine, the Naughton Power Plant is one of the biggest employers in Kemmerer. Its closure was expected to cut local jobs, slash revenue and force some residents to move away for work.

Then nuclear developer TerraPower announced on Tuesday that it would build a next-generation nuclear reactor in Naughton’s place, and would staff the new facility with the existing Naughton workforce. Kemmerer and three other candidate coal towns — Glenrock, Gillette and Rock Springs — had waited six months for the decision.

Over those months, the prospect of getting an advanced nuclear reactor has injected new optimism into a community used to weathering the booms and busts of the state’s energy industry, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Mayor Bill Thek. “We’ve been hopeful from the beginning, and as time went on, we became more and more hopeful.”

Some people are apprehensive about living near a demonstration nuclear reactor, he said, but few are outright opposed.

Kemmerer and surrounding communities sent letters to TerraPower and partnered utility Rocky Mountain Power, expressing their support for the project and emphasizing the local benefits it would have.

“We weren’t involved in the decision-making process at all,” Thek said. “We just put ourselves out there: This is what we believe we can do, and we’re hoping that we’re the chosen one.”

Still, he doesn’t expect the addition of nuclear to make Kemmerer any less of a coal town. Because a substantial share of the coal produced at the local mine is burned at the retiring Naughton plant, local leaders hope to find new sources of demand.

In the meantime, Kemmerer is preparing for an influx of construction workers that could outnumber its own population. It has a few years to ready itself: TerraPower doesn’t expect to start construction until 2024. But with the siting wait finally over, the town can exhale, knowing the nuclear plant is on the horizon.

“We look forward to a positive upward swing in our business community’s success and increased economic development for Lincoln County as a whole,” Ellen Potter, chairman of the Kemmerer/Diamondville Community Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

For Kemmerer, the project is a unique opportunity — and a relief.

“Even if the power plant goes away, the county and the state and the city are going to have a good tax revenue coming in,” Thek said. “And it’s all about survival of our city.”

For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune.

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