Wyoming is on the verge of being near the nucleus of U.S. energy innovation while going somewhere it has been before — on a power trip.

Last week’s announcement that the Cowboy State has been chosen as the location for the first Natrium nuclear reactor demonstration project helps cement Wyoming’s position as the energy capitol of the nation, and for the first time in decades it’s not because of coal.

The potential for Natrium and other prototype nuclear plants like it is exciting enough. That it’s going to happen here first is even more so.

Most important of note for Wyoming is that the project also addresses another concern — the accelerated push by electricity producers to retire coal-fired power plants as quickly as they can. In many cases, that means fewer customers and demand for Powder River Basin coal. The impact has been a reduction of more than 50% in basin coal production over the past decade.

There’s no way a nuclear project will replace the sheer volume of coal we once produced, nor provide the same financial windfall for the state. What it does do is bolster Wyoming uranium, another often-overlooked cog in our energy portfolio. Already the largest producer of uranium in the United States, we have an opportunity to see a surge in the element as the supplier to Natrium and, more broadly, other new nuclear plants that could come in the wake of this demonstration project.

While no longer dominated by coal, Gov. Mark Gordon’s all-of-the-above philosophy has us more balanced as still the nation’s largest coal and uranium producers, along with our oil. We’ve also added considerable renewables in the past decade with more wind generation, particularly in the southern part of the state.

Adding in our push as a leader in carbon capture, sequestration and utilization research, Wyoming also is on the front end of finding solutions for climate change.

That took a big step forward last week with the Natrium announcement, which included a who’s who of state and national energy producers and policymakers. But the big dog on the block was Bill Gates, founder and CEO of TerraPower, which is developing the Natrium reactor.

“Wyoming has been a leader in energy for over a century and we hope our investment in Natrium will allow Wyoming to stay in the lead for decades to come,” Gates said.

Since the project has support from such polar political opposites as President Biden’s administration, Gates, our congressional delegation and officials at the state and local levels, we’re hopeful nuclear can be the next step for Wyoming to realize its fission vision.

— Founded in 1904, the Gillette News Record is the only newspaper covering Gillette and Campbell County.

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