The nuclear developer planning a demonstration facility at Kemmerer’s coal-fired power plant has been working for months with the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee to streamline the approval process. An amended version of the arrangement passed the Wyoming House of Representatives 45-14 on Tuesday.
House Bill 131 would adjust existing statute to accommodate developments in the advanced nuclear sector and limit the permitting authority of the Industrial Siting Council to keep from stepping on the toes of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The Kemmerer project must be operational by 2028 to qualify for a $2 billion Department of Energy grant. TerraPower has said the bill will help to prevent the project from running into regulatory roadblocks.
“We support, broadly, what this legislation is attempting to do, and we think that it’ll allow us to keep our project on schedule in Lincoln County,” Jeff Navin, TerraPower’s director of external affairs, told the House minerals committee on Feb. 18.
The bill would also remove a restriction barring the temporary storage of nuclear waste before a permanent repository has been built, and would require developers to report expected state benefits, such as job creation, to the Department of Environmental Quality.
In addition, the bill addresses taxation. Wyoming statute levies a $5-per-megawatt production tax on nuclear power plants — though none currently exist in the state — with a narrow exemption for “test or demonstration small modular” reactors, under which TerraPower’s facility wouldn’t qualify.
TerraPower asked the minerals committee to expand that definition. It did: The version of the bill introduced in the House exempted test and demonstration “advanced” reactors, defined as “an improvement over nuclear reactors placed in service before January 1, 2021,” from taxation. Then the minerals committee, concerned about Wyoming’s attractiveness to nuclear developers, voted to exempt all advanced reactors — demonstration and otherwise — from taxation.
Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, proposed an amendment in committee that would have ended the tax exemption in 2035. It failed. She tried again in the House ahead of the third reading, this time adding a tax exemption after 2035 for facilities using at least 80% U.S. uranium. Most uranium used in the U.S. is imported, but most of the uranium produced domestically is mined in Wyoming.
“This amendment provides the industry time to get up and running while tying a metric to the tax exemption,” Sherwood said. “I ask you to encourage energy development that adds value to our existing industries.”
Several lawmakers voiced concerns about whether nuclear plants will be able to source the more highly enriched fuel they require — which is not produced commercially in the U.S. — from domestic producers in the next 13 years.
“I don’t think it does what it’s intended to do,” said Rep. Donald Burkhart Jr., R-Carbon County. “This won’t create any taxes for Wyoming. It won’t help Wyoming. It may hurt both.”
After some debate, the amendment was adopted by a vote of 30-26.
A second amendment proposed by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Natrona County, which would’ve barred advanced nuclear plants from sourcing highly enriched fuel from Russia, the world’s primary commercial source, failed 25-35.
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