SALT LAKE CITY — Utah could tap into nuclear power as part of a deal between the state of Wyoming and energy providers Rocky Mountain Power and TerraPower.
In an announcement in Cheyenne on Wednesday, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon praised the nuclear reactor deal as one that brings clean energy and jobs to the state.
"Hundreds of well paying jobs will be created through the construction and operation of this unit," he said.
The project will take a retired coal plant from Rocky Mountain Power and convert it into a Natrium nuclear plant, which will use salt-cooled reactors. This new technology is developed by TerraPower, which is co-founded by billionaire Bill Gates. At Wednesday's news conference, Gates appeared in a video message to support the project.
"Nuclear power is the only carbon-free source we have that can deliver large amounts of power, day and night, throughout every season almost anywhere on earth," Gates said.
On hand in Wyoming for the announcement was Governor Spencer Cox's energy adviser, Thom Carter.
"We're their largest customer," he said Wednesday.
About 60% of Utah's power supply comes from Rocky Mountain Power, Carter said. For the states Pacificorp (RMP's parent company) serves, Utah represents 44% of its electricity needs.
If the project is successful, Gov. Cox's office is not ruling out bring such technology here.
"It gives us the runway to watch, to see, to be supportive, of course," Carter said in an interview with FOX 13. "There’s Utah power that’s being engaged in this process, Utah jobs engaged in this process."
In a statement, Gov. Cox praised the project.
"I support an all-of-the-above energy plan, which includes nuclear power. Utahns need reliable energy sources and this new facility in Wyoming will provide that in an environmentally sustainable manner. Coal communities have powered our state and this country for generations and have enabled the tremendous economic growth we have seen across the West," he said. "By siting this project at a retiring coal plant, Rocky Mountain Power and their partners, TerraPower and the Department of Energy, are demonstrating that these same communities can power our economic growth for generations to come."
But nuclear power has not been popular in Utah. Past efforts to build a nuclear power plant in eastern Utah have not even gotten off the ground.
"Utah has a legacy of paying the price for the uranium, plutonium, nuclear industry," said Dr. Scott Williams, the executive director of the Healthy Environmental Alliance (HEAL) Utah. "These promises of 'Don’t worry, trust us, it’s going to be fine,' we’ve been down that road with the nuclear industry before."
Dr. Williams said Rocky Mountain Power should be investing in more renewable energy sources and advancing that kind of technology.
"We do worry that this and other projects that have been proposed to bring nuclear power into Utah makes it harder for us to say we don’t want the waste," he told FOX 13.
Rocky Mountain Power has invested in renewable energy, including wind farms in Wyoming and solar farms in rural Utah. But the company's president told reporters it is not enough.
"You can’t do 100% renewable and battery power and serve 24-7, not with the technology we currently have," said Gary Hoogeveen.
Carter said Utah would block any effort to store radioactive waste from the Wyoming project.
"This waste is not going to come to Utah, we’re really bullish on that," he told FOX 13. "It’s really important to remember when have conversations about de-carbonization, nuclear is the answer."
It is possible the project starts construction by the end of this year. Rocky Mountain Power said it would next start working through the applications process and an economic study on its feasibility.