Wyoming Energy Authority Makes Investment Toward Microreactor Deployment

BWX Technologies (BWXT) said it was awarded a “two-phase, two-year contract” with the Wyoming Energy Authority (WEA) to assess the viability of deploying small-scale nuclear reactors in the state to augment existing power generation resources.

The WEA says it combines the existing scopes of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, Wyoming Pipeline Authority, and the State Energy Office, “effectively consolidating Wyoming’s energy program into one entity that works to advance the state’s energy strategy by supporting Wyoming’s full energy portfolio.” Last year, the Wyoming Legislature appropriated $100 million to the Office of the Governor to provide matching funds for private or federal funding for research, demonstration, pilot projects, or commercial deployment projects related to Wyoming energy needs. Known as the Energy Matching Funds (EMF), the governor delegated the management of the funds to the WEA. The legislature made an additional $50 million available to EMF this year.

WEA Eyes Microreactor Project

In early August, WEA recommended to the governor that EMF be used for a project to be executed by BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC (BWXT AT), a subsidiary of BWXT. The project is designed to provide “an Assessment of Microreactor Deployment, Applications and Development of Nuclear Microreactor Technologies and Knowhow in the State of Wyoming.”

The distribution of EMF will be in two phases. Under phase one of the contract, BWXT will work with Wyoming industries to define the requirements basis for nuclear applications of base heat and power needs of the trona mining operations within the state. BWXT will also perform engineering work to further the design of its integrated “BANR” microreactor system that can integrate into Wyoming’s future power needs. This work will also include identifying areas where Wyoming’s existing supply chain can demonstrate capabilities for reactor component manufacturing and support reactor deployment.

Based on the outcomes of the first phase of the contract, phase two of the contract will entail BWXT furthering the design basis of BANR to meet the specific needs of potential Wyoming end users. A demonstration of the capabilities of Wyoming manufacturers would also be performed to validate the supply chain activities completed in phase one.

Throughout both phases of the contract, BWXT said it will leverage existing U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) achievements through the company’s collaboration with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and other internal BWXT research and development investments. Through the ARDP, BWXT and DOE have been developing the BANR microreactor since 2021, and this effort in Wyoming “represents an acceleration of BWXT’s commercial nuclear development efforts,” the company said.

Public-Private Partnerships

When announcing its recommendation to the governor in August, WEA said, “By planning for a lead microreactor to demonstrate the coupling of process heat and power to Wyoming’s industries, BWXT AT’s ultimate goal is to bolster the Wyoming extraction industries through carbon-free production of electricity and high-temperature process heat. If built, a lead microreactor would serve as a demonstration plant for a potential fleet of microreactors that could be deployed across the state and region. The conceptual design of the lead microreactor would allow for cost estimates for design, testing, fabrication, construction, and licensing to be developed and determine and demonstrate the extent to which the existing Wyoming supply chain can be used as part of a broader fleet deployment model.” BWXT plans to collaborate with Wyoming industrial partners during the project.

“Wyoming is all about offering pragmatic energy solutions for the 21st century,” WEA Executive Director Rob Creager said in a statement released on Aug. 8. “The Energy Matching Funds are a prime example of how State, Federal and private sectors can work together to achieve success and move the needle forward.” He went on to say the BWXT microreactor project holds great potential for the state’s energy security and economic advancement, suggesting that collaborations with INL, BWXT, and local industry are highly valuable.

INL has been providing strategic and technical support to the State of Wyoming under a memorandum of understanding signed on May 4, 2022. Steven Aumeier, senior advisor for strategic programs at INL, said, “BWXT and the State of Wyoming are leaders in forging innovative partnerships and innovative business frameworks that will help transform Wyoming’s economy and help secure the nation’s energy future.”

“Wyoming is in the unique position to be able to contribute funding for these innovative projects and believes this further demonstrates the strength of the Wyoming Energy Authority’s public-private partnerships,” Creager said.

BWXT: A Nuclear Innovator

In November 2021, TerraPower announced Kemmerer, Wyoming, as the preferred site for the Natrium Demonstration Project, one of two competitively selected ARDP projects supported by the DOE. The Natrium technology is a 345-MW sodium fast reactor coupled with a molten salt-based integrated energy storage system.

On Aug. 2 this year, BWXT announced a contract with TerraPower to design the Intermediate Heat Exchanger for the Natrium Demonstration Project. The Intermediate Heat Exchanger is a critical component of the Natrium advanced reactor. It transfers heat from the primary sodium in the primary heat transport system to the intermediate heat transport system. The work will start from conceptual design, preliminary design, and final detailed design activities of the Intermediate Heat Exchanger, and be performed by BWXT Canada Ltd. in Cambridge, Ontario.

BWXT is also the sole manufacturer of naval nuclear reactors, as well as the sole provider of nuclear fuel for U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers. BWXT has been manufacturing naval nuclear components and reactors since the 1950s, when it designed and fabricated components for the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.

BWXT is also working as part of a team led by Lockheed Martin to demonstrate the world’s first spacecraft using nuclear thermal propulsion. BWXT AT is tasked with completing final design of the nuclear reactor, manufacturing the reactor’s hardware and fuel, assembling the components, and delivering the fueled reactor as a complete subsystem for integration into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, known as DRACO. The spacecraft is targeted for a 2027 launch from Earth in “cold” status (meaning that the reactor is turned off as a part of launch safety protocols) by a conventional rocket, and then the reactor is expected to be powered on once the spacecraft attains an appropriate location above low earth orbit.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@POWERmagazine).

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