TerraPower picks western Wyoming town for its nuclear power plant

November 17, 2021

TerraPower announced that it will build its $4 billion nuclear power demonstration plant in Kemmerer, WY where the Naughton coal plant is scheduled to close in 2025.

TerraPower is an advanced nuclear power venture founded by Bill Gates. The plant will get half of its funding from the U.S. government. Pending permits, the 345 megawatt plant will open in 2028, which is the timeline mandated by Congress.

The project will get about $1.9 billion from the federal government including $1.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed this week. The bill included about $2.5 billion for advanced nuclear reactors.

“It’s a very serious government grant,” said Chris Levesque, president and chief executive officer of TerraPower, which is partnering with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. “This was necessary because the U.S. government and the U.S. nuclear industry was falling behind.”

Reuters reported that the United States has been competing with China and Russia which also hope to build advanced reactors and export them.

The relatively small "Natrium" reactor is similar to those used in some U.S. Navy submarines, and is designed to be faster and cheaper to build, and safer to run, than traditional large-scale reactors. The project has broad support from Wyoming's conservative political leaders and from the Biden administration.

“The Natrium reactor is the future of nuclear energy in America. It makes perfect sense to have it in Wyoming, the energy capital of the United States. Wyoming’s economy will grow from having this groundbreaking technology in our state," U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said in a statement to USA TODAY. "Our abundant energy sources including coal, oil, natural gas, renewables, and now nuclear power will continue to provide good-paying jobs. Americans across the country will depend on Wyoming energy for decades and decades to come.”

Some nuclear power experts say the more highly enriched fuel could be an attractive target for militants looking to create a crude nuclear weapon.

Advanced reactor proponents say the plants are safer and create less waste.

Gates had initially hoped to build an experimental nuclear plant near Beijing with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. But TerraPower was forced to seek new partners after the administration of Donald Trump restricted nuclear deals with China.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the plant would give hope to a town where a coal plant will shut. “The energy communities that have powered us for generations have real opportunities to power our clean energy future through projects just like this one.”

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns the coal-fired Naughton plant, and is shutting it down as part of the company's efforts to transition to cleaner fuels such as wind and solar. Nuclear power plants don't emit carbon pollution, and are considered by many experts to be a necessary step in reducing emissions to combat climate change.



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