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Utility Explores Converting Coal Plants into Nuclear Power

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The West is going nuclear.

A Bill Gates-backed developer and one of the largest utilities in the Western United States announced Thursday they were launching a study to determine if up to five coal plants could be equipped with advanced nuclear reactors.

The move further cemented the relationship between TerraPower, a nuclear developer, and PacifiCorp, a six-state utility headquartered in Portland, Ore. The pair agreed last year to build a 345-megawatt Natrium nuclear reactor at the site of a retiring coal plant in western Wyoming.

The deal signals the emergence of a new energy transition strategy in the West, where PacifiCorp has had to balance the climate goals of its customers in Washington and Oregon with the wishes of its Wyoming consumers, who want to keep the company’s coal plants open in their state. Nuclear power brings with it the prospect of jobs and zero-carbon electricity, potentially meeting the climate goals of political leaders and ratepayers in Washington and Oregon.

Yet the new focus on nuclear energy also comes with risks. The first reactor at the…

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