In a significant development, in a statement the Governor of Wyoming said, TerraPower LLC, a company owned by Bill Gates, and PacifiCorp have selected the state to build their first Natrium reactor project on the site of a retiring coal plant.
TerraPower is an advanced nuclear reactor company founded by Gates around 15 years ago; PacifiCorp, is a power company owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. The site of the Natrium nuclear reactor demonstration plant is likely to be announced by the end of 2021.
Small advanced nuclear reactors running on fuel different from ones that run traditional reactors, are regarded by by many as being critical to carbon-free technology than can supplement intermittent power sources such as solar, and wind energy.
“This is our fastest and clearest course to becoming carbon negative,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “Nuclear power is clearly a part of my all-of-the-above strategy for energy” in Wyoming, the United States’ top coal-producing state.
The Natrium reactor project features a 345 megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage that could boost the system’s power output to 500 MW during peak power demand, said TerraPower while adding, the plant would cost around $1 billion.
In late 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate its Natrium technology; the Energy Department has also committed additional funding in coming years subject to congressional appropriations.
The demonstration plant would take about seven years to build, said Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s president and CEO. “We need this kind of clean energy on the grid in the 2030s”.
According to nuclear power experts, advanced reactors have higher risk profiles compared to conventional ones, since fuel for many advanced reactors would have to be enriched at a much higher rate than conventional fuel, and could thus be a potentially attractive target for militants looking to create a crude nuclear weapon.
Construction of the demonstration project could also boost Wyoming’s once active uranium mining industry and bring carbon-free power online, said Wyoming Senator John Barrasso.
Barrasso was the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, who co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that was signed into law in 2019 which directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to create a path to licensing advanced nuclear reactors such as the TerraPower demo.