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Bill Gates’ TerraPower starts construction on sodium-cooled Natrium nuclear power plant to help meet surging electricity demand from AI, EV, and cryptocurrency use

Bill Gates at the TerraPower groundbreaking of the Natrium sodium-cooled reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Source: Bill Gates blog)
Bill Gates at the TerraPower groundbreaking of the Natrium sodium-cooled reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Source: Bill Gates blog)
Bill Gates’ TerraPower has started construction on its sodium-cooled Natrium nuclear power plant in Wyoming. Partnering with the US Dept. of Energy, the project reactor will provide 345-megawatts of electricity to help meet surging electricity demand from AI, EV, and cryptocurrency use. This clean energy alternative to solar and wind farms is not affected by changing sunlight and wind conditions.

Bill GatesTerraPower has begun building its first, sodium-cooled Natrium nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The company has partnered with the US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to share the $4 billion project cost. The 345-megawatt reactor will help meet surging electricity demand from AI, EV, and cryptocurrency use. This clean energy alternative to solar and wind farms is not affected by changing sunlight and wind conditions.

Natrium plant design

TerraPower Natrium will use a sodium-cooled fast reactor design that supposedly will reduce the amount of radioactive waste. The Natrium can also use energy stored in molten salt to boost generation to 500 MW during peak demand. This will be the nation’s first sodium-cooled reactor in commercial operation.

The plant is separated into two islands – one energy and one nuclear – to enable non-nuclear teams to operate the energy section that controls the turbines and tanks. This mitigates the need to train all staff on the operation of a nuclear plant.

Reduced land usage

Unlike enormous solar and wind farms, Natrium needs just a third of the land used by water-cooled reactors, greatly reducing the disruption of wildlife and landscape. For example, the 2,300 acre Aratina Solar Project in Boron, California will threaten endangered tortoises, destroy 3,500 hundred-year-old Joshua trees, and spread valley fever fungus. And if all Californian drivers switch from combustion to electric vehicles, new nuclear plants meeting demand will require just a square mile of land while new solar farms will cover land greater than half of Los Angeles city. Those worried about the ecological damage from increasing energy use can read about the KonMarie lifestyle and take local trips on a nice, human-powered bicycle.

Safety

Over 400 water-cooled reactors operate safely worldwide, but the rare loss of water circulation has led to meltdowns and radiation contamination like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The Natrium uses passive cooling enabled by gravity and convection for better disaster survivability.

One caveat is liquid sodium heated above 125 degrees C (257°F) can ignite when exposed to air, and sodium fires are difficult to extinguish. Some scientists argue additional pros and cons (which you can read here).

Kemmerer is located about a hundred miles (about two hundred km) northeast of Salt Lake City. This puts Salt Lake City outside the 80 km recommended evacuation zone recommended by the US Navy during the Fukushima disaster, but still within the range of light fallout contamination, which the USS Ronald Reagan experienced a hundred nautical miles out from Fukushima. Readers living nearby can prepare by buying a radiation detector and iodine tablets.

Rapid construction

The city of Kemmerer has a population of about 2,400. The project is expected to employ up to 1,600 workers during construction, followed by a staff of 250 during operations. While construction on the non-nuclear aspects has begun, TerraPower must wait for its license approval in 2027 from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before beginning reactor construction. The Bechtel Corporation will complete this final phase in 36 months due to the reduced material and labor required for sodium reactors.

Natrium will replace coal-fired Units 1 and 2 (357 MW, retired) and natural gas Unit 3 (247 MW, operational) at the nearby Naughton Power Plant. Unit 3 will continue operating until replaced by Natrium in 2029. Readers who don’t enjoy electric bills can buy a DIY solar panel kit.

Separation of the electricity distribution from the nuclear energy generation at the Natrium plant enables staff who are not trained to control nuclear materials to be hired. (Source: TerraPower)
Separation of the electricity distribution from the nuclear energy generation at the Natrium plant enables staff who are not trained to control nuclear materials to be hired. (Source: TerraPower)
Nuclear plants generate much more energy per acre than solar or wind farms, reducing the environment impact on the landscape and wildlife. (Source: NBC)
Nuclear plants generate much more energy per acre than solar or wind farms, reducing the environment impact on the landscape and wildlife. (Source: NBC)

We just broke ground on America’s first next-gen nuclear facility

Kemmerer, Wyoming will soon be home to the most advanced nuclear facility in the world.

By Bill Gates| June 10, 2024 4 minute read

Hello from Kemmerer, Wyoming! It’s been just over a year since my last visit, and I’m blown away by how much has changed.

One of the oldest buildings in downtown Kemmerer—once an opera house—has been restored and is now home to a mercantile and a bakery. Just down the street, the owners of the local coffee shop have purchased an 100-year-old building to expand their operation. A law office has opened, and city officials tell me that plans are moving forward for new multi- and single-family housing developments.

I’m thrilled to see so much economic growth happening, because Kemmerer will soon be home to the most advanced nuclear facility in the world. I just left the groundbreaking ceremony for the first-ever Natrium plant, which will bring safe, next-generation nuclear technology to life right here in Wyoming. It’s a huge milestone for the local economy, America’s energy independence, and the fight against climate change.

Today is a big one for Kemmerer—for the coal plant workers who will be able to see their future job site being constructed across the highway, for the local construction workers who will be part of a 1,600-person skilled labor force building the plant, and for the local businesses that will take care of the new workforce.

The plant was designed by TerraPower, a company I started in 2008. But my nuclear journey started several years earlier, when I first read a scientific paper for a new type of nuclear power plant.

The design was far safer than any existing plant, with the temperatures held under control by the laws of physics instead of human operators who can make mistakes. It would have a shorter construction timeline and be cheaper to operate. And it would be reliable, providing dependable power throughout the day and night. As I looked at the plans for this new reactor, I saw how rethinking nuclear power could overcome the barriers that had hindered it—and revolutionize how we generate power in the U.S. and around the world.

So, we started TerraPower, where nuclear scientists could take the concept and transform it into a reality. Since then, the amazing team at TerraPower has proven we can do nuclear better. They are leading the country—and the world—in developing safe, next-generation nuclear technology.

But that technology was just an idea in a lab and on a computer screen until today.

You can read more about the super cool science behind the Natrium plant here. Now that we’ve broken ground, the first order of business is to build the sodium test facility, which will test components and transfer the liquid sodium that will be used to cool the nuclear reactor. Construction will continue over the years ahead before the plant hopefully comes online in 2030.

For a project this big and this important to work, it takes private companies partnering with public leaders and governments. I can’t say enough good things about Mayor Bill Thek, Mayor Mark Langley, and the remarkable communities here in Kemmerer and Diamondville, who have embraced this project.

Today couldn’t have happened without the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which is supporting the project with the largest single contribution the federal government has ever committed to a private project. If we’re going to solve climate change, it’s going to take courage, commitment, and partnership between the federal government and private industry, a point that Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has made repeatedly. Gov. Mark Gordon and Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis have been true champions, and we’re grateful for the support from TerraPower’s investors and development partners, including Bechtel, GE Hitachi, PacifiCorp, and Berkshire Hathaway.

What’s next? The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted TerraPower’s construction permit application for review last month. It’s a step that sounds bureaucratic but is, in fact, a huge deal and the first time something like this has happened with a commercial non-light water reactor in more than 40 years. This step starts the review process at the NRC for the permit application—once it is approved, construction can begin on the actual nuclear reactor.

The review process will take a couple of years, so in the meantime, TerraPower will continue to build the non-nuclear parts of the facility. Construction will begin next year on the so-called “energy island,” which is where the steam turbines and other machinery that actually generate power will sit. (The reactor will eventually be part of a “nuclear island,” and the team hopes to start building that in 2026.)

While these first-of-a-kind projects can be big and risky, they are too important for our future to fail to act. I’m proud of all those who have helped ensure the most advanced nuclear project in the world gets built right here in the United States.

I believe that the next-generation nuclear power plant that TerraPower is building here will power the future of our nation—and the world. Everything we do runs on electricity: buildings, technology, and increasingly transportation. To meet our economic and climate goals, we need more abundant clean energy, not less. The ground we broke in Kemmerer will soon be the bedrock of America’s energy future. Today, we took the biggest step yet toward safe, abundant, zero-carbon energy.

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2024 06 > Bill Gates’ TerraPower starts construction on sodium-cooled Natrium nuclear power plant to help meet surging electricity demand from AI, EV, and cryptocurrency use
David Chien, 2024-06-12 (Update: 2024-06-12)