Bill Gates chooses Wyoming coal town for his sodium-based nuclear reactor
Construction could start as early as 2024 for operation by 2028
Bill Gates’ nuclear power company has identified a coal mining town in Wyoming as the site of its first power plant.
TerraPower, founded by Gates in 2006, this week designated the town of Kemmerer as the site for its new Natrium reactor. Construction could start as early as 2024 for operation by 2028.
Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower, thanked the various communities for welcoming the company into their homes as they conducted their surveys. He noted that while the site will be in Kemmerer, the entire state should benefit from it.
"Our innovative technology will help ensure the continued production of reliable electricity while also transitioning our energy system and creating new, good-paying jobs in Wyoming," Levesque said in a statement Tuesday.
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TerraPower picked the site in cooperation with Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp. Kemmerer currently operates a coal-fired plant, but will close the plant in 2025 as construction for the Natrium reactor begins.
The team evaluated "a variety of factors," including community support, physical characteristics of the site, the ability to obtain a license form the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, access to existing infrastructure and "needs of the grid."
Kemmerer Mayor Bill Thek said the town was "pleased and excited" to host the project.
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"This is great for Kemmerer and great for Wyoming," Thek said.
Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of PacifiCorp division Rocky Mountain Power hailed the decision as "an exciting opportunity to explore could be the next generation of clean, reliable, affordable energy production."
The U.S. Department last year awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate Natrium technology. The new reactor will feature a 345 megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage that could boost the system’s output to 500 megawatts during peak demand.
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Project estimates indicate TerraPower will need around 2,000 workers for the construction and 250 people to support day-to-day operations once the plant opens.
Nuclear power experts have warned that advanced reactors could have higher risks than conventional ones. Fuel for many advanced reactors would have to be enriched at a much higher rate than conventional fuel, meaning the fuel supply chain could be an attractive target for militants looking to create a crude nuclear weapon, a recent report said.
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Levesque said that the plants would reduce proliferation risks because they reduce overall nuclear waste.