by Abby Smith,
Bill Gates’s TerraPower will build an advanced nuclear reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming, the state’s governor announced Wednesday, a significant milestone for the budding zero-carbon technology.
“Nuclear power is clearly a part of my all-of-the-above strategy for energy in Wyoming,” Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, said when announcing the demonstration project. “This plant will be the first of a new generation of nuclear plants that are smaller, modular in design and are equipped with enhanced safety measures.”
Gordon said the advanced nuclear project, a multibillion-dollar investment and a first-of-its-kind plant, will help Wyoming reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, as well as offer opportunities for jobs for former coal plant workers.
The TerraPower demonstration project will be located at the site of one of PacifiCorp’s retiring coal-fired power plants. The companies haven’t chosen which retiring coal plant yet but are expected to announce the location for the project by the end of this year.
According to TerraPower, the project will be a 345 MW fully functioning power plant demonstrating its Natrium technology, which would store excess energy in tanks of molten salt to help supplement wind and solar energy, which are variable, in periods of high demand. The Natrium plants will be cooled by liquid sodium.
TerraPower said the storage technology could boost the project’s output to 500 MW of electricity, enough to power about 400,000 homes, for periods of more than five and a half hours when needed.
“The purpose of it is to show the world this technology is ready for commercialization,” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s CEO, noting the project should begin delivering power within seven years.
He added that as the demonstration project achieves different permitting and construction milestones, it will give utilities confidence to place orders for additional plants.
“We expect to have other Natrium projects starting even before” this demonstration project comes online, Levesque said.
Gordon and the two companies announced the project in conjunction with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee.
Barrasso led bipartisan legislation signed into law in 2019 that directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a framework to license advanced nuclear reactors, paving the way for projects such as the TerraPower demonstration.
Last fall, the Energy Department awarded TerraPower $80 million in funding to help it demonstrate the Natrium technology, as part of a Trump administration push on advanced nuclear power.
The Biden administration is equally as enthusiastic about advanced nuclear reactors. Granholm, in remarks during Wednesday’s event, said the Biden administration “sees a critical role for carbon-free nuclear” in its efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, for example, pledges to invest $15 billion in climate research and development, including advanced nuclear energy.
“I have a feeling Wyoming won’t be the only state angling for one of these nuclear reactors once we see it in action,” Granholm said. “Fortunately for the rest of the country, this administration is committing to building more.”