Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE — Legislators took no action on a plan to store spent nuclear fuel rods within Wyoming — and heard about a possible alternative use of the rods — during a committee meeting Tuesday in Casper.

Discussion of the plan was spurred by a bill that would have authorized the governor to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Energy over the storage. But Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, pulled the bill during the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee’s meeting.

“I found out that we really don’t need to give the governor’s office the authority to discuss this with the DOE — that they have the authority to do that right now,” said Anderson, who co-chairs the committee.

Though the legislative go-ahead was unnecessary, Anderson said he was unaware of any current or upcoming negotiations between Gov. Mark Gordon and the Department of Energy. Michael Pearlman, spokesman for the governor’s office, said there have been no talks between Gordon and the department. There is no time frame for the governor to make a decision on how to proceed, Pearlman said.

During a public comment period for the plan, several people spoke against the proposal, which Anderson said could bring more than 100 million pounds of nuclear waste to the state.

Colleen Whalen, spokeswoman for Wyoming Against Nuclear Dumps, said she worried about safety risks associated with transporting the casks.

“After a year out of the reactor, the waste is deadly in seven seconds,” Whalen said. “Should the cask be breached, seven seconds [and] you’re dead.”

But Anderson, while presenting the findings of a spent fuel rods subcommittee, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ensured the group of the precautions taken during transportation and storage of the spent fuel rods.

Following discussion of the nuclear storage plan, legislators heard a report on a possible alternative destination for the spent fuel rods: a thorium-based power plant. Vikram Singh and Taran Sondhu, engineers for Alabama-based Filbe Energy, explained how the state could become a leader in the nascent thorium-based energy industry.

“While coal has been very generous to Wyoming’s fortunes, her story does not have to be married to coal, and her story certainly does not have to extinguish with coal’s waning popularity,” Singh said.

Thorium does not produce carbon dioxide emissions, meaning Wyoming could send thorium-based energy to states like California that have restrictive emissions standards, Singh said.Thorium is the only way to destroy nuclear waste permanently, Singh added.

“Without such technology that can provide a permanent fix to the spent fuel problem, I would not personally advocate that this stuff be stored in Wyoming,” Singh said. “At the end of the day, of course, it is the Legislature’s prerogative.”

Following the report, Rep. Donald Burkhart Jr., R-Rawlins, asked the representatives from Flibe Energy what they were proposing.

“We are looking to build first-of-a-kind reactors within the next five to six years, and hopefully at the end of the next decade, we’ll have first-of-a-kind reactors producing power,” Singh said.

Pearlman said the governor thinks the thorium option is worth looking at, though he’s unsure if it will be financially feasible.

This week’s meeting was the last one scheduled for the committee before the legislative session begins Feb. 10.

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