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2024 Montana Primary elections
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Manufacturing business plans for private nuclear reactor in Butte

A mining headframe in Uptown Butte, Montana with the city in view in the background.
Mike Albans
/
Montana Public Radio
A mining headframe in Uptown Butte, Montana with the city in view in the background.

A private nuclear power plant could come to Butte. The company behind the plan said it has backing from local government.

Butte-Silver Bow commissioners at a recent meeting were enthusiastic about the nuclear energy proposal from XGen Holdings and the manufacturing jobs it could bring.

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher told commissioners he’d been working with the company for several months on the project and said the state was also aware of it.

“This is real. This is an opportunity for Butte-Silver Bow. It’s something I think I can stand behind and I can support,” Gallagher said.

XGen Holdings President Christian Barlow said he intends to purchase 160 acres of land west of Butte to headquarter his company and its manufacturing plants.

He said Westinghouse Electric Corporation agreed to build a small, modular nuclear reactor to power his operation. While discussing the proposal, Barlow told commissioners the following:

“We’ve already talked with the NRC, which is the federal regulation for nuclear power plants. We have talked with them; we have already been greenlit to build here. We do have NRC’s blessing. We’ve gone through a lot of that vetting process already.”

However, after the initial publication of this story, Nuclear Regulatory Commission public affairs officer Scott Burnell told MTPR the agency has not approved the nuclear reactor XGen Holdings described, and that the agency is not reviewing any applications for the reactor from XGen Holdings.

Burnell’s full statement is below:

“There are no applications for XGen before the NRC. There are no approvals from the NRC for the project XGen has described.

The NRC is in early discussions with Westinghouse for the designs that XGen has mentioned. Those are early discussions. There is no application under review for either design. For the micro-reactor that was part of the discussion, the NRC is in “pre-application” discussions with Westinghouse. The company is providing individual pieces of information that, in the future, could be part of an application. But there is nothing in front of the agency that would approve that design for use.”

MTPR reached out to XGen Holdings president Christian Barlow and Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher and requested clarification on Barlow’s comments.

XGen’s proposed manufacturing plants would build products used in night-vision goggles and air filtration.

Barlow also told commissioners that because the modular nuclear reactors are mobile and air-cooled, the county would not have to “deal with” waste.

Barlow said he intends to have the first reactors online by January 2026. State lawmakers in 2021 repealed a policy that required any proposal for nuclear power to go before voters.

Corrected: April 12, 2024 at 11:50 AM MDT
An earlier version of this story paraphrased XGen Holdings President Christian Barlow saying that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had approved XGen Holdings’ plan. However, that is not the case and MTPR has now included Barlow’s quote in this piece. A spokesperson for the NRC confirmed the agency is not reviewing any applications for nuclear power from XGen Holdings at this time. This story has been updated with comments from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Westinghouse also denied involvement in Barlow's proposal in a statement to MTPR. A spokesperson wrote, in part, "We do not have a formal relationship or agreement with the individual cited in ... Montana Public Radio's article."
Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing austin.amestoy@umt.edu.
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