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Amended nuclear power bill advances with unresolved issues

Concerns remain about the Natrium nuclear power plant’s reliance on a Russian enrichment facility for fuel.

A measure to clarify state and federal regulatory roles regarding TerraPower’s planned Natrium nuclear power plant passed a Senate committee Monday with no opposing votes. But members of the public highlighted several issues that remain largely unresolved in the bill.

The Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee added three amendments to House Bill 131 – Nuclear power generation and storage-amendments. Two clarified reporting and public disclosure requirements, and a third addressed technical issues brought by the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

The core of the bill repeals past statutes blocking temporary spent nuclear waste storage until the federal government funds a permanent repository. The legislation is an attempt to satisfy concerns raised by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A barrel of radioactive waste is visible through a catwalk at the Smith Ranch-Highland in-situ uranium mine in eastern Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

But questions over taxation, public and environmental safety and construction impacts on communities remain. Another major unresolved concern is the fact that the only current supplier for the specialized fuel that the Natrium plant relies on is in Russia — which launched a globally denounced invasion of Ukraine.

“We are working in real time to try to figure out what additional options we might have,” TerraPower’s Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin told the committee.

Russian fuel source

The liquid-sodium cooled Natrium design relies on “high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) metallic fuel,” according to the Bill Gates-backed TerraPower.

“As of today, the only facility that can produce commercial quantities of HALEU is owned and operated by Tenex in Russia, which is problematic on a number of levels,” Navin told WyoFile via email.

TerraPower began setting aside capital in 2021 to “stand up” domestic HALEU enrichment capabilities to “create an American competitor to Tenex,” Navin said.

“We are working with Congress and the Department of Energy to expedite the development of domestic enrichment capability,” Navin said. “This investment has helped support the only facility in the United States currently licensed to produce HALEU, although they do not yet have the capability to produce HALEU at commercial levels.

TerraPower Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin in Kemmerer Jan. 19, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)