Tech Corner: Emery County Commission Secures $7.5 million in Funding to Further San Rafael Energy Research Center

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By Jade Powell

During the October 2020 funding meeting for the Permanent Community Impact Board (CIB), the Emery County Commission secured $7.5 million in funding for the San Rafael Energy Research Center located near Orangeville, UT. The funding will be for the development of a research center to study molten salt technologies and medical isotopes.

The funding is in addition to previous funding already secured for the development of the coal-combustion furnace now in operation on the property. The effort with the coal-combustion furnace is for the research and development of cleaner, more efficient energy by coal-fired power plants.

Many might know Emery County for being home to several large coal mines and coal-fired power plants. With the imposition of strict regulations on coal in the United States, it has now made coal-fired power plants less economically feasible, which has led Emery County to a crossroads with its historic source of energy and economic prowess.

Business and political leaders of Emery County have actively been working to diversify the county’s energy sector, careful to not push out coal, but to also find alternatives for citizens to be employed if/when the power plants close (scheduled for 2036). Housed just above Orangeville, the San Rafael Energy Research Center has been established in a newly remodeled warehouse. The goal behind the center is to diversify the coal energy industry and find better alternatives than uranium based power.

The San Rafael Energy Research Center is focusing on molten salt technology and thorium-powered nuclear energy. Thorium exists abundantly in nature compared to uranium, and although it is not compatible by itself, it is usable within molten salt reactors. This research is not primarily done for electricity generation or to prove that thorium works, but to implement isotope harvesting.

This type of research center will be the only one of its kind in the United States. This research is important because the U.S. uses more medical isotopes than any other country. Medical isotopes are utilized in x-rays as well as various treatments, such as cancer and blood disorders.

Emery County officials are hopeful the San Rafael Energy Research Center facility will continue to grow and provide new scientific technologies for energy and medical resources. This is an exciting time for Emery County to be a positive influence in the local, national and worldwide marketplaces for the health and security of all people.

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