TerraPower, a Bill Gates-backed highly experimental nuclear energy startup, might establish its first facility in the coal-mining city of Kemmerer, Wyoming, as soon as 2028. To provide a bit of metaphor for “out with the obsolete, in with the modern,” the business claims its facility will be built near the site of a couple of coal facilities set to close by 2025. The new reactor will be a 345-megawatt, sodium-cooled nuclear reactor with storage technology that may temporarily raise output to almost 500 megawatts of energy when required. According to the corporation’s blog post, the plant can create enough electricity to run 400,000 households.
Sodium-fueled generators can burn used uranium as well as plutonium, possibly lowering residue and the requirement for radioactive containment. The facility is air-cooled, which, as per TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque, will reduce the chances of a breakdown and provide for a speedy emergency cutoff. However, there are several possible downsides to the sodium approach: as sodium can retain its liquid state at high temperatures rather than converting to gas, it may burn when in contact with air and could ignite when immersed in water, according to Scientific American.
TerraPower’s Wyoming facility might require up to 2,000 workers during development and 250 once operational. That’s substantial, given that Kemmerer has a population of little over 2,500 people. Even though Gates has invested significantly in TerraPower since its inception in 2006, the Natrium power plant in Wyoming will be supported by US taxpayers. The administration would allegedly give the corporation USD 1.9 billion, USD 1.5 billion of which will come from funding designated for advanced nuclear power plants in the recent infrastructure package.
The entire cost of the facility is expected to be approximately USD 4 billion. TerraPower was also one of two US-based companies that got USD 160 million from the DOE last year to create the new plants. The Natrium reactor costs a substantial sum of money, although it is considerably less than the price of Facility Vogtle, the sole nuclear plant now under development in the United States. When everything is said and done, the facility might cost USD 28.5 billion to build. It is based on standard nuclear technologies, although it has been plagued by budget shortfalls and unmet schedules.
TerraPower has previously sought to construct a prototype facility near Beijing, but the project was halted owing to heightened regulatory limitations during Trump’s administration. Though nations such as the United States have been dabbling with sodium-cooled fast reactors since the 1950s, TerraPower’s Natrium would be the first sizable plant operational outside of Russia. France has spent years and millions of euros creating its own experimental sodium-cooled nuclear reactor before abandoning the project in 2019. Other companies are also experimenting with new nuclear plant concepts, such as the newly revealed Rolls-Royce compact nuclear reactor.