Bill Gates’ TerraPower makes its pick for next-gen nuclear power plant in Wyoming

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An artist’s concept shows the layout for the Natrium Reactor Demonstration Project in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (terapower illustration)

terapowerThe nuclear power venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has chosen a soon-to-be-retired coal-fired power plant in Wyoming as its preferred location for a next-generation demonstration reactor.

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After an evaluation process that included meetings with community members, the Bellevue, Wash.-based enterprise chose Kemmerer, Va., to site its natrium reactor, which would use technology from TerraPower and GE-Hitachi.

The project is one of two projects supported by the US Department of Energy. Initial funding round totaling $160 million, The second project is planned by Maryland-based X-Energy, which involves Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation. selected as the preferred location, The Energy Department plans to invest a total of $3.2 billion over a seven-year period to turn the concepts into reality by 2028, with funding provided by industry partners.

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TerraPower previously indicated that it planned to build a demonstration reactor. At one of PacifiCorp’s four retired coal-fired plants in Wyoming, but today’s announcement revealed the exact location.

“The people of Wyoming have welcomed us into their communities over the past several months, and we are excited to be working with PacificCorp to build the first natrium plant in Kemmerer,” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower President and CEO. said in a news release today, “Our innovative technology will help ensure the continued production of reliable electricity while transforming our energy system and creating new, well-paying jobs in Wyoming.”

A cropped view shows the layout of the TerraPower/GE-Hitachi Natrium nuclear plant. (TeraPower Graphic)
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The two remaining coal production units at Kemmerer’s Notton Power Planet are due to be retired in 2025. In selecting the site, TerraPower considered community support, the physical characteristics of the site, the needs of the regional electricity grid, access to existing infrastructure, and the possibility of obtaining a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. TerraPower plans to submit its application for a construction permit to the NRC in mid-2023.

About 2,000 workers would be needed for construction at the peak of the project. Once the plant is operational, around 250 people will support day-to-day activities. “It’s great for Kemmerer, and great for Wyoming,” said Kemmerer Mayor Bill Theek.

In a statement, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm noted that President Joe Biden just signed bipartisan legislation this week to provide more than $1 trillion for infrastructure projects. “Today the DOE is already putting it to work, with over $1.5 billion going to Wyoming,” she said.

Demonstration plant will validate TerraPower/GE-Hitachi Natrium Concept For next generation nuclear power generation.

The concept sought to build a sodium-cooled fast reactor with an energy storage system that uses molten salt instead of water. The demonstration reactor will produce 345 megawatts of electricity, enough power to serve approximately 250,000 homes. When needed, the storage system can increase the system’s output to 500 MW, enough for 400,000 homes.

Another selling point is that the storage system can be integrated with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to back up those sources with the ability to generate electricity round-the-clock, day-and-night.

Gates founded TerraPower in 2006, and for most of its existence it has been researched in a laboratory co-located with Intellectual Ventures’ facilities in Bellevue. At the end of 2019, TerraPower Established a 65,000-square-foot research facility in Everett, Wash. Near Paine Field and one of Boeing’s airplane factories.

In addition to working on the Natrium concept, TerraPower has a program that focuses on medical applications of nuclear technology – applications that can use spent nuclear fuel.

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