GLENROCK, Wyo. - If you’re driving through Glenrock on Interstate 25, the Dave Johnston Power Plant is hard to miss. For some of the locals, catching a glimpse is a sign they’ve arrived home. The coal-fired plant is set to be retired in 2027 though, and that means nearly 200 jobs could be lost along with it.
That’s unless Bill Gates and nuclear power save the day.
Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, also founded the self-described nuclear innovation company TerraPower. It has plans to build its first Natrium nuclear reactor in Wyoming. Glenrock, population 2,600, is one of four towns under consideration and local officials tell us they’re hopeful. If Glenrock gets the nod, the lost jobs from the coal plant would be replaced just one year after it closes. The nuclear plant is tentatively scheduled to open in 2028.
"We’ve been told it’ll be close to 250 people," Glenrock Mayor Bruce Roumell tells FOX Business when asked how many jobs might be generated. "They’ve also said there would be around 1,500 people in the construction phase. That’s a pretty good influx into this area for us."
Safety is always a concern when nuclear is mentioned, but TerraPower insists this time is different. The plant uses brand-new technology aimed at operating safer and more efficiently than nuclear plants of the past. Liquid sodium is used as a coolant instead of water, and since it has a much higher boiling point, it does not need to be pressurized to prevent it from vaporizing.
The reactor is also designed to produce about a third as much waste as existing nuclear plants. Plus, it will have a storage system generating energy in times of low demand, which should give the plant an advantage over alternative sources like wind and solar.
Still, while most people in Glenrock we spoke with are highly supportive of the plant and the jobs that would come with it, there are some who still need to be convinced.
"I’m just not sure about nuclear power," a longtime Glenrock resident named Nelda tells FOX Business. She quickly adds, "It seems likely everybody else who lives here thinks it’s great."
Nelda has a point. Almost all of the other residents we spoke with in the Lynn’s Superfoods parking lot were excited about the economic promise of TerraPower’s new plant.
"We’ve got to do something," Deb Schell tells us before buying her groceries. "I think it’s the wave of the future. Coal is on its way out so we have to do something."
Robert Short knows these issues about as well as anyone in the community. He currently serves as a county commissioner in Converse County, where Glenrock is located, and owns the Higgins Hotel on Birch Street in Glenrock. That’s where we met for a conversation about the nuclear plans of Bill Gates and TerraPower.
Short, in addition to his involvement in local politics and business, has a background in nuclear science. He has worked all over the world as a researcher, and thinks now is finally the time for nuclear in the U.S.
"We took a hiatus from nuclear development quite a long time ago," Short says. "Technology has evolved. Now we’re using that evolved technology to enhance designs and efficiency associated with nuclear fuel."
Time will tell if Short is prophetic, but there are promising signs for the project. It has bipartisan support. Democrats like Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm are on board, and so are Republicans such as Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso.
Now it’s up to TerraPower to pick the Wyoming town that gets the first shot at this new technology. The choice is expected to come later this year. Glenrock is hoping to beat out Gillette, Kemmerer and Rock Springs.
It’s possible all four will eventually get a reactor, if the first is a success. Then, the attention might turn to other western states like Montana, Utah or North Dakota.
But someone has to go first. Glenrock, Wyoming is ready and willing.