Industries News.Net

TerraPower starts construction on next-generation nuclear power plant

Robert Besser
14 Jun 2024

KEMMERER, Wyoming: Bill Gates and his energy company, TerraPower, have begun construction on a next-generation nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

This groundbreaking project aims to "revolutionize" power generation by using advanced nuclear technology that promises safer and more efficient energy production.

Gates, who co-founded TerraPower in 2008, was present in the small community of Kemmerer to initiate the project. TerraPower applied for a construction permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in March for an advanced nuclear reactor that uses sodium instead of water for cooling. If approved, this reactor will operate as a commercial nuclear power plant.

The site for this ambitious project is adjacent to PacifiCorp's Naughton Power Plant, which will cease burning coal in 2026 and natural gas a decade later. PacifiCorp plans to source carbon-free power from the new reactor, integrating it into its long-term energy plans.

The initial work aims to prepare the site for swift construction if the permit is approved. Gates emphasized the importance of this project, stating, "This is a big step toward safe, abundant, zero-carbon energy, and it's important for the future of this country that projects like this succeed."

Advanced nuclear reactors like TerraPower's Natrium design use alternative coolants and operate at lower pressures and higher temperatures. Although such technology has been around for decades, the U.S. has mainly focused on building large, conventional water-cooled reactors. This Wyoming project marks the first attempt in about four decades to bring an advanced reactor online as a commercial power plant in the U.S.

TerraPower's Natrium reactor features a sodium-cooled fast reactor design with a molten salt energy storage system. Chris Levesque, TerraPower's president and CEO, highlighted the need for innovation in the industry to meet future electricity demands and address current cost issues. He noted that traditional approaches have focused on reliability but now require modernization to enhance efficiency and safety.

The TerraPower project is expected to cost up to $4 billion, with half of the funding coming from the U.S. Department of Energy. This figure includes initial costs for designing and licensing the reactor, with future reactors anticipated to be significantly cheaper.

Most advanced nuclear reactors under development in the U.S. rely on high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), which is enriched to a higher percentage of uranium-235 than conventional reactor fuel. TerraPower has delayed its launch date in Wyoming to 2030 due to the need to develop alternative supplies, as Russia is currently the only commercial supplier of HALEU.

Concerns about HALEU's potential use in nuclear weapons have been raised, but NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell assured that current requirements will maintain security and public safety for any reactors built and their fuel.

Gates' involvement in TerraPower underscores his commitment to using technological innovation to address climate change. The 345-megawatt reactor could generate up to 500 megawatts at its peak, enough to power up to 400,000 homes. TerraPower's initial reactors will focus on electricity generation, but future designs may supply high heat to industrial plants, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

John Kotek of the Nuclear Energy Institute highlighted Gates' role in promoting nuclear power as a solution to the climate crisis, noting the growing momentum for new nuclear technologies in the U.S. "There's tremendous momentum building for new nuclear in the U.S. and the potential use of a far wider range of nuclear energy technology than we've seen in decades," he said.

Copyright ©1998-2024 Industries News.Net | Mainstream Media Limited - All rights reserved