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The pilot project between Wyoming and TerraPower will use an existing coal-fired plant for the Natrium reactor project.
Wyoming will join forces with Bill Gates’ TerraPower LLC to house the first Natrium reactor, a move proponents hope will help diversify the state’s economy while accelerating the nation’s transition to clean energy.
TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates in 2006, and power company PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, said on Wednesday the exact site of the Natrium nuclear reactor plant is expected to be announced by the end of the year. The plant, featuring a sodium reactor and molten salt energy storage system, is an advanced reactor that runs on fuels rather than traditional reactors. It is regarded by experts as an important carbon-free technology that can supply intermittent power sources like solar and wind as states across America strive to reduce emissions to curb climate change.
“We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry,” Gates told a media conference to launch the project in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Wyoming’s Natrium nuclear reactor project features 345 megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactors with molten salt-based energy storage that has the potential to boost the system’s power output to 500MW during peak power demand. TerraPower said last year that the nuclear plants would cost about $1 billion.
The exact location of the nuclear reactor is yet to be decided. It will replace a current coal-fired plant operated by PacifiCorp. According to Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of PacifiCorp division Rocky Mountain Power, the aim is to decide by the end of 2021 which of the company’s four plants in Wyoming will house the Natrium nuclear power plant: Naughton in Kemmerer, Wyodak near Gilette, Dave Johnston in Glenrock, or Jim Bridger near Rock Springs.
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who also spoke remotely at the launch event, said the new reactor will produce 345 megawatts of power.
“We are ready to make investments in advanced nuclear technology so that communities all over the country can enjoy the benefits of safe and reliable and clean power that will leave them with lower energy bills and greater opportunities,” Granholm said.
The nuclear reactor will use small, modular reactors. Each of these reactors can be used individual or be combined to create a single large nuclear power plant. TerraPower was one of two clear energy companies to receive an $80 million Federal Energy Department grant in October.
“This country is going to continue to depend on Wyoming energy for decades and decades to come,” Sen. John Barrasso said at the conference.
Wyoming is an interesting choice for TerraPower’s reactors but not an unlikely one. It is a top uranium-mining state, and the Natrium reactor project would use uranium from “in situ” mines that extract the metal from a grid of water wells on the high plains.
TerraPower’s nuclear reactor will create a common ground between Wyoming and the current administration. Regulating greenhouse gases is a touchy subject as it is still a top producer of carbon dioxide from its coal, oil and natural gas industries.
Wyoming is also the top coal mining state. With the U.S. coal industry waning the state’s leaders are scrambling to position Wyoming as a clean energy producing state. The reactor would give the state a new lease of life as it grapples with a downturn in its energy sector, along with the coronavirus crisis, prompted by multiple budget cuts due to a decline in revenues.
“Wyoming has been a leader in energy for over a century and we hope our investment in Natrium will help Wyoming to stay in the lead for many decades to come,” said Gates during the conference.