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Barrasso says new legislation sets stage for new Wyoming Natrium nuclear reactor

A proposed design of the "Natrium" nuclear plant that will be built in Wyoming shared in a PacifiCorps press release. (PacifiCorps)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso on Friday helped introduce the “American Nuclear Infrastructure Act,” legislation which he says would set the stage “to deploy advanced nuclear technologies like the Natrium reactor coming to Wyoming.”

“The American Nuclear Infrastructure Act will strengthen both America’s energy and national security,” Barrasso said in a press release shared by his office on Friday. “In the face of Russian and Chinese aggression, it’s critical we remain the world’s leading developer of nuclear energy technology. This bipartisan legislation gets that done. Nuclear power is dependable and clean. Our bipartisan bill supports the continued operation of America’s existing reactors and sets the stage to deploy advanced nuclear technologies like the Natrium reactor coming to Wyoming.”

Governor Mark Gordon announced this June that Wyoming has been selected for the construction of a new “advanced” nuclear reactor, saying it would be “game-changing and monumental” for Wyoming.

The system would be built at one of four sites in Wyoming. It was co-developed by TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology, which TerraPower claims can offer “improved reactor economics, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced safety and lower volumes of waste.”

The Natrium reactor would be a sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), utilizing different technology than existing reactors in the United States, which are either pressurized water reactors and the remaining or boiling water reactors. Whether the Natrium technology would actually improve on existing reactors is debated, with the Union of Concerned Scientists exploring the issue in their “‘Advanced’ Isn’t Always Better” report.

The Barrasso-backed “American Nuclear Infrastructure Act” has bipartisan support. Other senators who introduced the legislation last week include:

  • U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
  • U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
  • U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
  • U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)

The Friday press release claims that the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA) would:

  • Re-establish American international competitiveness and global leadership
  • Empower the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to “lead a consensus-building process in international forums to establish regulations for advanced nuclear reactor designs”
  • Give authority to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “to deny imports of Russian nuclear fuel on national security grounds”
  • Create a prize “to incentivize the successful licensing process of next generation nuclear technologies and fuels”
  • Require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to “identify and resolve regulatory barriers to enable advanced nuclear technologies to reduce industrial emissions”
  • Authorize a targeted credit program to “preserve nuclear plants at risk of prematurely shutting down”
  • Restructure rules that restrict investment in nuclear energy
  • “Revitalize” the country’s nuclear supply chain infrastructure
  • Identify “modern manufacturing techniques to build nuclear reactors better, faster, cheaper, and smarter”

“It’s important that we continue to position the United States as a global energy leader, and that requires us to take full advantage of all sources of America’s energy potential,” Capito said in the release. “Along with our nation’s coal and natural gas resources, nuclear power can provide critical clean and reliable electricity needed to power our homes and businesses.”

Whitehouse said that the legislation would help keep existing nuclear plants online “preventing their replacement with dirtier fossil fuels.”

“We also need to invest in developing a new generation of nuclear power technologies that can productively reuse spent nuclear fuel,” the senator added.

Booker highlighted the role of nuclear energy in reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.

“The American Nuclear Infrastructure Act will facilitate the development of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors, help keep our existing fleet of reactors safely operating, and provide critical funding to clean up legacy pollution from abandoned mines located on Tribal lands,” Booker added.

Further information about the legislation is available online: