Bill Gates quest to bring a safer, more advanced brand of nuclear power to the United States just got an affirmative nod from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and the electric utility PacifiCorp. Gates, who is founder of the nuclear energy company TerraPower, has joined an agreement with PacifiCorp and the state of Wyoming to make efforts to build a Natrium reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The companies are evaluating several potential locations in the state.
“Together with PacifiCorp, we’re creating the energy grid of the future, where advanced nuclear technologies provide good-paying jobs and clean energy for years to come,” said Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals.”
The location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. The demonstration project will be a fully functioning power plant and is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology.
The project features a 345-megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 megawatts of power for more than five and a half hours when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes. This innovative addition allows a Natrium plant to integrate with renewable resources and could lead to faster, less expensive decarbonization of electricity generation. In addition, the technology’s novel architecture separates and simplifies major structures, reducing complexity, cost and construction schedule, while delivering around-the-clock energy. The technology is also supposed to be safer than the country’s current contingent of aging nuclear generating stations.
In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. TerraPower signed the cooperative agreement with DOE in May 2021.
The Natrium system is a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology. Along with PacifiCorp and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, members of the demonstration project team include engineering and construction partner Bechtel, Energy Northwest, Duke Energy and nearly a dozen additional companies, universities and national laboratory partners.
Next steps include further project evaluation, education and outreach, and state and federal regulatory approvals prior to acquisition of a Natrium facility.
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.