LARAMIE – With big changes taking place in the world’s energy markets, nuclear power could be a possibility in Wyoming, an industry expert said Wednesday.
Wyoming is an energy state, with around 70 percent of its revenue derived from extractive industries such as oil, gas and coal. But as some of the larger markets for Wyoming’s energy commodities shift toward demanding renewables, the future of the state’s breadbasket industries is uncertain.
For Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS – a Utah political subdivision providing energy services on a nonprofit basis to community-owned power systems throughout the Mountain West – that meant rethinking its strategy.
“As we moved along, we saw messaging from the environmentalist community that they were going after carbon,” said Nate Hardy, UAMPS director of resource strategy and environmental policy. “Coal is low-hanging fruit. When coal is gone, they’re going to go after natural gas. So we saw we needed to think in a carbon-free environment.”
Hardy was one of two panelists speaking Wednesday at the University of Wyoming on renewable energy sources during the Wyoming Energy Summit. The event, sponsored by the Wyoming Business Report, a sister publication to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, saw attendance from several lawmakers and candidates for statewide offices, including some running to be the state’s next governor.
Wyoming has a lot going for it when it comes to potential for developing renewable energy sources. Though it has a burgeoning wind sector, solar has been slow to start. And there’s currently no nuclear power presence in the Cowboy State.
But that could change, Hardy said.
While he said UAMPS doesn’t advocate for an energy portfolio that’s comprised entirely of either renewables or minerals, having an array of sources would make sense for the Cowboy State.
Small modular reactors, or SMRs, are a type of nuclear fission reactor smaller than conventional reactors. Hardy said UAMPS is working with the U.S. Department of Energy on projects to implement nuclear reactors as energy supplies. The idea, Hardy said, is to build small reactors in a factory environment, allowing suppliers to provide nuclear energy in a way that aggressively controls costs.
And because of the way the reactors are designed, Hardy said they wouldn’t pose the risk of repeating the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, where an earthquake led to nuclear meltdowns and the release of radioactive materials. It remains the most significant nuclear disaster since the 1986 accident at a Chernobyl power plant in the former Ukrainian republic of the Soviet Union.
“These reactors sit in a common pool of water, and because of this design, the problems that happened in Fukushima are not a problem,” Hardy said. “You can walk away from these things without auxiliary power. These things will safely shut down without any operator actions. That was recently demonstrated by a press release from the (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC).”
The NRC’s approval of the design is a big deal, Hardy said. For Wyoming, it could mean the state could take advantage of existing transmission infrastructure to implement SMR power plants as coal plants expire.
“These small nuclear reactors, a couple of 600-megawatt plants, could be dropped in the same sites,” Hardy said. “Utilize the water, utilize the transmission, the economies are there, the workforce is there. … It would be a shame to throw all that away.”
Developers working with state and federal regulations can be cumbersome, Hardy said. Wyoming could implement state and local policies and advocate for federal policies that would “create a path of least resistance” to implementing SMRs, he said.
“To the extent Wyoming policymakers, legislators and communities can work together to get on board sooner, rather than later, would be very advantageous,” Hardy said.
To read more in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, click here.