It would appear that the new nuclear power plant funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates has finally found a home. The next gen nuclear demonstration plant, jointly funded by TerraPower and PacifiCorp, will be located in the same facility as a coal-fired power plant about to be retired in Wyoming.
The new natrium reactor is expected to have about 345 MW of capacity. Its energy storage system, based on a molten-salt architecture, is capable of unleashing about 500MW of power during peak usage times. Unlike traditional reactors, this small-scale nuclear reactor uses a different type of fuel that is seen as a key carbonless technology, making it more important than wind power and PV, both of which are sources of variable renewable energy. According to Bill Gates, the next-gen nuclear demonstration plant’s natrium reactor and energy storage system are safer and cheaper than traditional nuclear power plants.
Gates’ TerraPower and legendary investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway jointly holds shares in PacifiCorp, which will announce the precise location of the natrium demonstration plant by the end of the year.
As the largest coal-mining state in the US, Wyoming is seeing a gradual transition towards natural gas power generation by its public utility companies, as natural gas is both cheaper and cleaner. Now that coal mining is no longer as bullish an industry as before, many coal fired power plants are expected to close down ahead of time in the future. However, Wyoming is also the largest uranium-mining state – perhaps the reason why TerraPower chose Wyoming as the ideal location for its nuclear power plant. Furthermore, not only is Wyoming home to various uranium mines, it also has a comprehensive power transmission network, in addition to the fact that the uranium mining industry can provide various employment opportunities to the locals.
"We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry," according to Bill Gates in a video conference. "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."
TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque indicates that the new nuclear power plants cost about several billions of dollars (USD, that is, in case there’s any confusion), to be split between the government and the corporations, while construction time lasts seven years, although TerraPower estimated last year that “the plants would cost about $1 billion”.
However, some reports also indicate that certain nuclear experts warn of the fact that the fuels used in the new reactors are denser than those used in traditional plants, meaning they are also more dangerous, since this increased density makes the fuel supply chain an easier target for extremists. On the other hand, Levesque emphasizes that the massive reduction in nuclear wastes means that the adoption of the new nuclear power plants leads to lower risks of nuclear pollution.
(Image: Flickr/Billionaires Success CC BY 2.0)