Plant visualization. Credit: Terrapower

TerraPower, PacifiCorp and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon have teamed up to install a Natrium reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming.

The demonstration project will be a fully functioning power plant and is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology. The project features a 345MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500MW of power for more than five and a half hours when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes.

Bill Gate argues that nuclear power is key to a zero carbon future. The Natrium reactor produces less waste, is less expensive to build, and is fully automated. Furthermore, Gates explains it’s safer than water cooled reactors, as “the liquid sodium can absorb a lot more heat, meaning less high pressure inside the reactor.”

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“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 Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals.”

Natrium combines a sodium fast reactor with a molten salt energy storage system. Credit: Terrapower

“This project is an exciting economic opportunity for Wyoming. Siting a Natrium advanced reactor at a retiring Wyoming coal plant could ensure that a formerly productive coal generation site continues to produce reliable power for our customers,” said Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp. “We are currently conducting joint due diligence to ensure this opportunity is cost-effective for our customers and a great fit for Wyoming and the communities we serve.”

The companies are evaluating several potential locations for the plant, with a final decision being made by the end of 2021. While discussions continue about the best possible location, further project evaluation will be conducted, as well as education and outreach, and state and federal regulatory approvals prior to acquisition of a Natrium facility.

TerraPower was founded by Bill Gates in 2008 as a platform to advance nuclear energy innovation. The team began working on Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR®) physics and engineering concepts and in October 2020, the US Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), awarded $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate Natrium, a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology.

Bill Gates is placing great effort into developing next-generation energy technologies and innovations that will a ensure sustainable, smart and carbon-free energy future. To further this goal, Bill Gates and a group of private investors established Breakthrough Energy in 2015 to support the innovations that will lead the world to net-zero emissions.

Along with PacifiCorp (owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway) and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, members of the demonstration project team include engineering and construction partner Bechtel, Energy Northwest, Duke Energy and nearly a dozen additional companies, universities and national laboratory partners.