Power companies TerraPower and PacifiCorp, run by billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have chosen Wyoming to launch the first Natrium nuclear reactor project on the site of a retiring coal plant. TerraPower, founded by Gates about 15 years ago, and power company PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, said to Reuters that the exact site of the Natrium reactor demonstration plant was expected to be announced by the end of the year.
By demonstrating the Natrium reactor at a retiring coal plant within the state, they can not only take advantage of the existing energy infrastructure that is in place (such as cooling water intakes and electrical distribution), but also the workforce. This project leverages innovations from the concentrated solar power, tunnelling, and combined cycle gas turbine industries. It also intends to utilise the latest advanced construction and manufacturing methods to bring thousands of jobs back to the area.
“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 TerraPower president and CEO Chris Levesque. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonisation and emissions-reduction goals.”
Scott Melbye, president of Uranium Producers of America (UPA) and executive vice president of Uranium Energy Corp, also welcomed the announcement. “The UPA’s member companies have the production capability to support the fuel needs of this programme and hopefully many new advanced and small modular reactors to follow. Wyoming uranium providing energy jobs and clean, reliable nuclear electricity here in Wyoming has a wonderful ring to it.”
This is an incredible opportunity for the state, which currently receives almost 90% of its electricity generation from fossil fuels. The Natrium design represents the future of advanced nuclear reactor technology and is well-suited to provide clean and efficient power. The U.S. Department of Energy is extremely excited about this project and is investing nearly $2 billion to support the licensing, construction and demonstration of this first-of-a-kind reactor by 2028.
Natrium is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that is paired with a molten salt energy storage system to flexibly operate with renewable power sources. Its simplified design and advanced construction methods will make it faster and more affordable to build, and its constant high operating temperature can be used to generate carbon-free heat or electricity to drive other energy-intensive manufacturing processes. This will be the first commercial reactor ever in the state of Wyoming and one of the first advanced reactors to operate in the United States, expanding the state’s already impressive energy portfolio.
Natrium’s thermal energy storage system also provides opportunities for new markets to evolve in the region. The high-temperature heat or electricity generated by the reactor can be used to produce hydrogen to create carbon-free synthetic fuels or decarbonise the oil refining process. It can also be directed to power local mining operations in the area to help lower emissions in the extraction of coal, natural gas, and uranium fuel.