Another trail-blazing move by the Cowboy State
On June 3rd it was announced by Governor Mark Gordon that Wyoming will become the home of a new Nuclear power plant - a move towards greater use of environmentally friendly energy. The plant is to be based on an innovative new design that has been conceived by Bill Gates' advanced nuclear reactor company, TerraPower LLC. It will be implemented in a public-private partnership along with Wyoming energy supplier, PacifiCorp.
Once the Natrium reactor is operational a PacifiCorp coal-fired power station in the state will also be retired. The plant is expected to be operational and complete within 7 years. In addition to enabling the replacement of a coal-fired power station the project will also create a number of construction jobs in the process, as well as new employment within the plant itself.
Wyoming and green energy
Once operational, the plant will generate an estimated 345 megawatts - a considerable amount by any standards. It is also a significant step towards increasing the volume of power that's generated from environmentally-friendly and non-polluting sources.
In 2020 around 15% of the energy consumed in Wyoming was from renewable sources. With the smallest population of any state, it is a net-energy supplier and produces 14 times more energy than it consumes. It is ideally positioned to increase the electricity generated from renewable sources by harnessing the wind too (for example) - in 2020 the state doubled its wind-power generating capacity to 1,800 Gigawatts.
A forward looking step
In recent years, political leaders of Wyoming have proven themselves to be innovative and forward-looking, particularly when it comes to embracing technology of all kinds for the betterment of the state and its residents.
Consider the state's position on Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain computing for example. As far back as 2019 Wyoming had enacted 13 blockchain-enabling laws which made it the only US state to establish itself formally as pro-cryptocurrency at the time. The laws make it favourable for companies associated with cryptocurrency to base themselves in the state. The effects of these shifts have been profound.
In late 2020 the Governor Gordon expressed his support, labelling the state to be crypto-friendly. This has encouraged companies like Kraken (one of the major cryptocurrency exchanges - where customers can buy Bitcoin and other currencies online) to decide to base themselves in the state. Kraken Financial have applied for the appropriate licencing to become a bank based in the state.
More recently, in February of this year, formerly San Francisco-based Ripple Labs have also moved to base themselves in the Cowboy State. Ripple, who offer payment processing solutions associated with blockchain technology and cryptocurrency have also seen Wyoming as the place-to-be when it comes to conducting business within a state that values and sees the potential of cryptocurrency.
The synergy between Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and green-energy is significant. Bitcoin has long been criticized by skeptics and doubters for being intensive in its energy consumption - Bitcoin 'mining', the process by which the computer network that operates Bitcoin is maintained, uses extensive amounts of energy. Some estimates put the energy consumption of the Bitcoin network around 121.36 terawatt-hours each year - similar to that used by Argentina.
Moves to generate more energy from renewable sources within Wyoming may offer a further draw for cryptocurrency related firms like Kraken and Ripple to locate themselves within the state, offering new jobs and bringing investment to the area.
Is nuclear power safe?
In early 2021 the Biden administration announced an intention to achieve net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 and a carbon-free electricity grid by 2035 - moves to nuclear power will be a stepping stone towards that goal.
While the intent is good, there are many who have reservations about nuclear power and whether it is genuinely safe or entirely clean. Concerns raised often include that nuclear power stations are dangerous, that they are responsible for emitting radiation into the environment and that the waste generated is harmful and difficult to dispose of.
The American Center for Nuclear Science is keen to point out however, that these concerns and many others commonly mentioned are in fact, myth. Coal power emits 100x more radiation into the environment than nuclear power for example. Furthermore, no member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the United States.
In terms of waste, over 96% of the waste generated is recyclable, and the remaining waste is safely in storage. As the ANS points out - all of the used nuclear fuel generated in every nuclear plant in the past 50 years would fill a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, which doesn't seem significant given the corresponding waste generated by other power sources.
What happens next?
As Governor Gordon was keen to point out, the process from announcement to construction won't happen quickly. There are many regulatory steps to complete first, and a site for the plant still needs to be identified.
But signs look good that Wyoming will continue to blaze a bold trail with nuclear energy, just as it has with cryptocurrency.