TerraPower breaks ground on SMR project in Wyoming

June 11, 2024, 7:00AMNuclear News
Craig Piercy, ANS Executive Director/CEO (third from left), and ANS Board member Jess Gehin, associate laboratory director for nuclear science & technology at Idaho National Laboratory (second from left), join other officials at the ceremonial groundbreaking for TerraPower’s Natrium reactor demonstration project.

A ceremony in Wyoming yesterday marked the official start of construction of TerraPower’s planned Natrium reactor demonstration project.

While currently awaiting final review from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TerraPower is moving forward with nonnuclear construction work at a retired coal plant near Kemmerer, Wyo. The groundbreaking brought together TerraPower leaders, government officials, Natrium project partners, industry advocates, and community supporters.

“The Natrium is more than a design, it’s a plant coming to life that will support both the clean energy transition and our historic energy communities,” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s president and chief executive officer. “Our innovative Natrium technology will provide dispatchable carbon-free energy, gigawatt-scale energy storage, and long-term jobs.”

TerraPower founder Bill Gates was on hand and thanked all the partners who are helping “get the most advanced nuclear project in the world built.”

American Nuclear Society Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy was invited to attend the event and take part in the ceremony. “A hearty congratulations to TerraPower, the state of Wyoming, and Lincoln County,” said Piercy. “You are embarking on a journey toward a better, cleaner future.”

About the reactor: A first-of-its-kind commercial advanced reactor, Natrium will use liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water. According to TerraPower, the reactor features improved fuel utilization, enhanced safety features, and a streamlined plant layout that will require fewer overall materials to construct.

Kemmerer Power Station Unit 1 would operate as a 345-MW sodium-cooled reactor in conjunction with molten salt–based energy storage. The plant’s storage technology would enable boosting of the system’s output to 500 Mwe—enough energy to power 400,000 homes—for more than five and a half hours when needed to meet additional grid demand.

Natrium is one of two advanced reactor demonstration projects selected for competitive funding through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. (X-energy’s Xe-100 is the other.)

TerraPower received $1.6 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Biden in November 2022, which is to be used to ensure the completion of the plant. The Bill Gates–backed company has also raised more than $1 billion in private funding. Earlier this year, TerraPower announced the second round of contracts for long-lead suppliers supporting the development of the Natrium reactor.

Starting to build: In May, the NRC formally accepted TerraPower’s construction permit application and is scheduling its review. The company is the first to submit its construction plans for review and is the first to move formally from the design to the construction phase.

Roughly 1,600 workers will be needed for Natrium’s construction at the project’s peak and the build is expected to take five years. Once operational, the company estimates it will support 250 jobs on-site, including security.

Quotable: “Today we celebrate a trifecta. This first-of-its-kind project is good for the community of Kemmerer-Diamondville, the state of Wyoming, and our nation. As Natrium moves boldly toward establishing a new domestic energy source, it offers the promise of hundreds of jobs, enhanced careers, and renewed vitality,” said Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon. “This project also demonstrates how good things can happen when the private and public sectors work together to solve problems. Advances made here will bolster Wyoming’s ability to produce another source of dispatchable power securely. In Wyoming we know energy—and we will continue to provide it to help keep our nation competitive and safe."

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