US-based TerraPower, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon and PacifiCorp on 2 June announced efforts to advance a Natrium™ reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The companies are evaluating several potential locations in the state.
“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 TerraPower president and CEO Chris Levesque. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonisation and emissions-reduction goals.”
Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp said the project was 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. 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 location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. 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 candidate reactor sites are the Wyodak plant near Gillette in coal-rich northeastern Wyoming, the Naughton plant near Kemmerer in southwestern Wyoming, the Jim Bridger plant outside Rock Springs in southwestern Wyoming and the Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock in uranium-rich east-central Wyoming.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said: “I have always supported an all-of-the-above energy portfolio for our electric utilities. Our state continues to pave the way for the future of energy, and Wyoming should be the place where innovative energy technologies are taken to commercialisation.”
The project features a 345 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed.
Terrapower says allows a Natrium plant to integrate seamlessly with renewable resources and could lead to faster, more cost-effective decarbonisation of electricity generation. In addition, the technology’s novel architecture separates and simplifies major structures, reducing complexity, cost and construction schedule, while delivering safe and reliable electricity.
In October 2020, the Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme (ARDP), awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. TerraPower signed the cooperative agreement with DOE in May. To date, Congress has appropriated $160 million for the ARDP and DOE has committed additional funding in the coming years, subject to appropriations.
The Natrium system is a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology. Along with PacifiCorp 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.
Next steps include further project evaluation, education and outreach, and state and federal regulatory approvals prior to acquisition of a Natrium facility.
TerraPower is a leading nuclear innovation company founded by Bill Gates. Power utility PacifiCorp is a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's energy company, Berkshire Hathaway. “We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry,” Gates told a press conference by video link. “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.”
Wyoming is a key US uranium-mining state, and the reactor would use uranium from “in situ” mines on the high plains, officials said.
Wyoming is also the main coal mining state but has faced a serious economic downturn over the past decade as utilities switch to cheaper and cleaner-burning gas for power generation.
Image: TerraPower plant visualization (Credit: TerraPower)