An Experimental Nuclear Plant Will Be Built In Wyoming By A Bill Gates Venture
The plant could produce enough eco-friendly energy to power about 250,000 homes
Wyoming’s top coal-mining state will host an experimental nuclear power project backed by Bill Gates near a coal-fired power plant that will close soon, officials announced Tuesday.
The TerraPower Natrium plant will be built in Kemmerer, a town of 2,600 in southwestern Wyoming, where the coal-fired Naughton power plant operated by PacifiCorp subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power is set to close by 2025.
We will continue to produce reliable electricity while also transforming our energy system and creating new, good-paying jobs in Wyoming,” TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque said in a statement.
It will employ up to 2,000 people during construction and 250 once it has been operational in a state where the coal industry has been losing jobs recently.
Approximately 250,000 homes could be supplied with electricity from the 345-megawatt plant if it is as reliable as conventional nuclear power. At a global climate-change summit in Scotland, officials from the U.S. and other countries pledged to keep working to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Steve Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and chairman of TerraPower, announced plans for the Wyoming project in June with officials from Rocky Mountain Power, the Biden administration, and the state that produces 40% of the nation’s coal. As a result of the announcement, four Wyoming cities competed for the project.
A similar pool of coal power plant workers in Kemmerer was a key factor in deciding to locate the plant there, Levesque told reporters.
“We believe those workers are ready to operate Natrium. “They’ll have to undergo some retraining,” Levesque said.
During the project’s seven-year development, a simulator will be developed to train workers to operate the nuclear plant. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2024.
The project, which involves a sodium-cooled fast reactor and molten salt energy storage, is said to perform better, be safer and cost less than traditional nuclear power.
“Natrium will be the next improvement in safety. “It will not rely on external sources of power, pumps, and equipment to help the reactor recover in an emergency,” said Levesque, referring to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 caused by a tsunami that destroyed emergency generators.
The Natrium plant can be air-cooled because sodium has high heat-transfer properties. In an emergency, the plant will be able to be quickly shut down, and the lack of emergency generators and pumps will save on costs, Levesque said.
As compared to water for cooling as in conventional nuclear plants, other critics are skeptical about sodium’s advantages.
The use of liquid sodium has many problems. It’s a very volatile material that can catch fire if exposed to air or water, said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety with Union of Concerned Scientists science advocacy nonprofit.
Lyman said that several countries, including the U.S., have experimented with sodium-cooled fast reactors for decades, but only Russia has deployed one on a large, power-producing scale.
“Honestly, I don’t understand the motivation,” Lyman replied. They’ve won the day here by convincing Bill Gates that this is a good technology to pursue.”
In addition to the Wyodak plant near Gillette in coal-rich northeastern Wyoming, the Jim Bridger plant outside Rock Springs in southwestern Wyoming and the Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock in east-central Wyoming were considered as possible sites.
In a few years, the closure of the Naughton coal-fired power plant in Kemmerer would put at risk a local mine that provides coal for the plant alone.
Emmerer, located 130 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, is a popular destination for fossil enthusiasts thanks to nearby Fossil Butte National Monument and privately owned fossil quarries. It is also home to the first J.C. Penney location, a store called The Golden Rule opened by James Cash Penney in 1902.