Wyoming as a hub for new nuclear manufacturing and microreactor deployment?

June 14, 2024, 3:10PMNuclear News

A 60-year-old Wyoming industrial machinery company is partnering with nuclear innovator BWX Technologies to deploy 50-megawatt microreactors in America’s heartland over the coming years to provide carbon-free heat and power for industrial users.

L&H Industrial has signed a joint development agreement with Virginia-based BWXT to develop and deploy the company’s advanced nuclear reactor (BANR) in cogeneration sets—equipped to deliver electricity, steam for process heat, or both—in Wyoming and the surrounding states. L&H is a well-respected name for industrial customers but until now has only supported the supply chain for coal, oil and gas, wind, and hydropower.

“Collaborating with BWXT represents a unique opportunity for L&H to lead the way in the nuclear energy supply chain and further develop Evercore Energy, the operational company that will own, operate, and lease the energy provided by these groundbreaking [cogeneration] sets,” said Mike Wandler, president and CEO of L&H Industrial.

The proposal: Evercore Energy was created last fall as a subsidiary to oversee nuclear opportunities for L&H Industrial and to make Wyoming a hub for microreactor production as well as deployment. The Gillette-based company is currently at the center of the world’s coal industry—but Wandler wants to diversify.

His idea is to create one-stop-shopping in Wyoming for everything from manufacturing reactor vessels, specialized fences, and electrical control panels to piping, wires, and pouring concrete. Evercore Energy would provide consulting services as well as operate and lease energy generated from the microreactors.

“We have always known that the opportunity to create a nuclear industry in Wyoming wasn’t just about producing more energy but bringing the entire supply chain of the industry to our state—energy produced in Wyoming with components made in Wyoming,” said Rob Creager, executive director of the Wyoming Energy Authority. “L&H has been producing and manufacturing critical solutions to our energy industry for decades and is a natural fit to work with BWXT. We support their effort to continue to produce reliable, affordable energy while providing jobs for our Wyoming workforce.”

While BWXT has an industrial base to build the reactors, Wandler told the Cowboy State Daily that he would like to take on some of the vendor business from the larger BWXT, which boasts a market capital of around $8.6 billion.

“We’ve got this culture that we still want to do this stuff,” said Wandler of Wyoming’s vendor network. “Other places don’t want to do this anymore. They don’t want it in their backyard, and that’s fine. So, let’s do it in Wyoming.”

National lab partners: In May 2022, the WEA and Idaho National Laboratory signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on research, development, demonstration, and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies, including innovations that harness nuclear energy for industry applications.

INL assisted the state with capacity building and strategic development, which helped the WEA engage the nuclear energy industry and develop its Nuclear Energy Strategic Framework. The state partnered with BWXT, which received $9.9 million from Wyoming’s Energy Matching Fund program, to assess the viability of deploying small-scale nuclear reactors.

Wyoming nuclear: Elsewhere in Wyoming, the Bill Gates–backed company TerraPower is gearing up to build a nuclear demonstration plant in Kemmerer. It has partnered with BWXT to engineer a 345-MW reactor near the site of a coal-fired plant. Also, Warren Buffet’s electric utility PacificCorp is looking to add nuclear reactors.

L&H Industrial and BWXT are hoping to target energy-starved industrial sites and large data centers. The partnership will provide a commercialized variant of a transportable reactor that BWXT is developing for the military, under the Department of Energy program Project Pele. That federally funded reactor is under development and getting tested at INL later this year.

The effort to bring small-scale, new nuclear technology to states like Wyoming has been dubbed the Frontiers Initiative. Stakeholders in Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah have joined as “nuclear energy first mover states,” said Steven Aumeier, senior adviser to strategic programs with INL.

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