• Taren Powell
  • 13 December 2019

If you’re into hunting, fishing, hiking, or rock climbing chances are you’ve heard of Emery County, home to famous sandstone formations in Goblin Valley, world-renowned bouldering in Joe’s Valley, and deep canyons in the San Rafael Swell. While tourism may increasingly be what Emery is known for today, it is historically best known as the home of 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 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 its energy sector, careful to not push out coal immediately but to also find alternatives for citizens to be employed when the power plants close (officially set 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 with molten salt reactors. It is not for electricity or to prove thorium works, but to implement isotope harvesting. This type of research center is the only one of its kind in the United States, even though the U.S. uses more medical isotopes than any other country.

In 2011, the United States Congress passed the Medical Isotope Production Act. Ultimately the act was created to form a program to make low enriched uranium available. It also mandated that a domestic source needs to be created by 2025. The materials used are radioactive, but is deems to be low-level radioactive waste and is much safer than uranium.

The second objective of the San Rafael Energy Research Center is coal combustion. Coal combustion is a process used to produce steam for electricity. A machine became available from the University of Utah and Emery County made arrangements to place it in Orangeville alongside the Energy Research Center warehouse. 

The third objective comes with support from Congressman Stewart, Congressman Curtis, and Senator Mitt Romney. Coal gasification and carbon fiber from coal research are also being implemented. Gasification is considered to be more environmentally friendly and less polluting compared to their other energy producing counterparts. 

Emery County officials are hopeful the San Rafael Energy Research Center facility will continue to grow and provide nuclear improvement throughout the years to come and provide another source of jobs before the coal-fired power plants close.