The state’s governor announced on Wednesday that Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor companies TerraPower LLC and PacifiCorp had chosen Wyoming to build the first Natrium reactor on the site of a decommissioned coal plant.
The specific location of the Natrium reactor demonstration project is likely to be disclosed by the end of the year, according to TerraPower, which was created by Gates around 15 years ago, and PacifiCorp, which is controlled by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. Small advanced reactors, which use different fuels than standard reactors, are seen as a crucial carbon-free technology that may augment intermittent power sources like wind and solar as states work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is our fastest and clearest course to becoming carbon negative,” Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said. “Nuclear power is clearly a part of my all-of-the-above strategy for energy” in Wyoming, the country’s top coal-producing state.
A 345 megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage may enhance the system’s power output to 500 megawatts at peak power demand. Last year, TerraPower estimated that the units would cost around $1 billion.
TerraPower was given $80 million in initial financing by the US Department of Energy late last year to showcase Natrium technology, and the department has promised more investment in the following years, subject to congressional appropriations.
TerraPower’s president and CEO, Chris Levesque, estimated that the demonstration plant would take roughly seven years to complete.
“We need this kind of clean energy on the grid in the 2030s,” he told reporters.
Experts in nuclear power have warned that advanced reactors may pose a greater risk than ordinary reactors. According to a recent article https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/advanced-isnt-always-better, fuel for many modern reactors would have to be enriched at a significantly greater rate than ordinary fuel, making the fuel supply chain an appealing target for militants attempting to build a crude nuclear bomb.
According to Levesque, the facilities would lower proliferation threats by reducing total nuclear waste.
In addition to providing carbon-free energy, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso believes that the demonstration project will help revive the state’s once-thriving uranium mining economy.
Barrasso, the senior Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that authorized the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide a path to licensing advanced nuclear reactors like the TerraPower demonstration, which was signed into law in 2019.