Bill Gates’ TerraPower will build its first advanced nuclear reactor in a coal town in Wyoming

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  • Kemmerer, Wyoming, a marginal coal town, has been announced as the location for the first demonstration nuclear power plant for Bill Gates’s company TerraPower.
  • The plant will cost about $4 billion, with half coming from TerraPower and half from the United States government.
  • The plant will be operated by Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacificCorp, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and will play a role in its decarbonization strategy.

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TerraPower, a start-up co-founded by Bill Gates has chosen to revolutionize the design of nuclear reactors Kemerer, Wyoming, as the preferred location for its first demonstration reactor. Its purpose is to build the plant in Frontier-era Coal Town till 2028.

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TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque said in a video call with reporters on Tuesday that building the plant would be a job bonus for Kemmerer, which will have 2,000 workers at its peak.

It will also provide new clean-energy jobs to a sector today dominated by the coal and gas industry. Today, a local power plant, coal mine, and natural gas processing plant combined provide more than 400 jobs – a sizable number for an area that has only 3,000 people.

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“New industry coming into any community is generally good news,” Kemmerer Mayor William Theek told Businesshala. “You have to understand, most of the cities around us are 50 miles or more away from Kemmerer. Despite this, workers travel such distances every day to work in our area.”

For TerraPower, choosing a location was a matter of geological and technical factors, such as seismic and soil conditions, and community support, Levesque said.

Once built, the plant will provide a baseload of 345 MW, with the potential to increase its capacity to 500 MW.

For context, one gigawatt or 1,000 megawatts of energy would power a medium-sized city, and a small city might operate on about one megawatt, Microsoft co-founder Gates provided in his recent book Rules of Thumb. According to, “How to survive a climate disaster“The United States uses 1,000 gigawatts and the world needs 5,000 gigawatts,” he wrote.

The plant will cost about $4 billion to build, half of which will come from TerraPower and half from the US Department of Energy. Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program,

“This is a very serious government grant. It was necessary, I should mention, because the US government and the US nuclear industry were falling behind,” Levesque said.

“China and Russia continue to build new plants with advanced technologies like ours, and they want to export those plants to many other countries around the world,” Levesque said. “So the US government was concerned that America was not proceeding that way.”

Levesque said once built, it should provide electricity for 60 years.

How TerraPower’s Reactors Are Different

The Kemmerer plant will be the first to use an advanced nuclear design called Natrium, developed by TerraPower with GE-Hitachi.

Natrium plants use liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water. Sodium has a higher boiling point and can absorb more heat than water, which means High pressure does not build up inside the reactor, reducing the risk of explosion.

In addition, natrium plants do not require an external power source to operate their cooling systems, which can be a vulnerability in case of emergency shutdown. This contributed to the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, when a tsunami shut down the diesel generator driving its back-up cooling system, contributing to the meltdown and the release of radioactive material.

Natrium plants can also store heat in molten salt tanks, conserving energy for later use like batteries and enabling the plant to increase its capacity from 345 to 500 MW in as little as five hours.

The plants are also smaller than conventional nuclear power plants, which should make them faster and cheaper to build than conventional power plants. TerraPower aims to acquire its plants at a cost of $1 billion, a quarter of the earlier budget at Kemmerer.

“One important thing to realize is that the first plant always costs more,” Levesque said.

Finally, natrium plants produce less waste, a problematic and dangerous by-product of nuclear fission.

‘the Times They Are A changin’

The Kemmerer plant still faces some hurdles, including federal approval.

“There is an extensive licensing process overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is obviously expensive. There are many reviews out there,” Levesque said.

In addition, the fuel used by the natrium plant is called high-assay low enriched uranium, or HALEU, which is not yet commercially available.

The current nuclear fleet in the United States runs uranium-235 fuel that is enriched to 5%, the Department of Energy states, While HALEU is enriched between 5% and 20%,

“Sadly, we don’t have this enrichment capability in the US today. And it’s a matter of great concern to the US government, and the Department of Energy in particular,” Levesque said.

But it is coming, Levesque said. “I’m really certain we’re going to install that capability” in another public-private partnership, the way the Natrium power plant’s demonstration is being built.

Once built, the plant will be turned over to operate Rocky Mountain Power, a division of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Pacificocorp.

There, it would become part of Rocky Mountain Power’s decarbonization plan.

“Coal-fired plants such as the Knotton facility in Kemerer have benefited our customers from very low-cost electricity for decades,” Rocky Mountain Power President and CEO Gary Hugevin said Tuesday. “And we appreciate that. But times are changing,” Hougevin said.

“External requirements from the federal government, state governments, regulatory agencies require that we change and require us to decarbonize and as we go down that path, we see that the Natrium project is an incredible opportunity for our customers. valuable than.”

“Wyoming is a tremendous wind resource state,” Hoogeven said. And so far, Rocky Mountain Power has built 2,000 MW of wind power capacity in Wyoming, and it’s about to grow. “We expect to build many more thousands of megawatts of wind capacity in the state.”

But the nuclear power plant in Kemmerer would be an important bridge to the state, Hoogwein said.

“It’s a great place to absorb the intermittentness of renewable resources and use the built-in storage that is so incredibly valuable to us,” he said.

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