Bill Gates says Wyoming nuclear reactor to be 'most advanced nuclear facility' on Earth

By Chris Benson
A digital rendering of the Natrium Advanced Reactor Demonstration Project illustrates how the new site being constructed in Wyoming will appear after completion. Illustration courtesy of Bechtel
1 of 2 | A digital rendering of the Natrium Advanced Reactor Demonstration Project illustrates how the new site being constructed in Wyoming will appear after completion. Illustration courtesy of Bechtel

June 11 (UPI) -- Wyoming soon will be home to the "most advanced nuclear facility in the world" at the site of an old coal plant, according to Bill Gates.

TerraPower, a nuclear power company started in 2008 by Gates, broke ground Monday on the Natrium demonstration project in Kemmerer, Wyo. The Wyoming groundbreaking Monday signals "the beginning of the next era of nuclear energy," Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower, said Monday in a statement.


The so-called Natrium reactor that will eventually be on site "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," Levesque said.

As a fully functional commercial power plant, it will have the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in a state with more than 500,000 citizens. The company says Kemmerer will be "the first advanced nuclear reactor project under construction in the Western Hemisphere."


There are currently 94 commercial reactors in 28 states that help power American businesses and homes. Nuclear energy is "one of the most reliable energy sources in America," according to the Energy Department, more reliable than natural gas, wind, coal or solar.

"As I looked at the plans for this new reactor," Gates wrote in a letter, "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."

It was called a "first-of-its-kind project" by Wyoming's Republican governor.

"This project also demonstrates how good things can happen when the private and public sectors work together to solve problems," said Gov. Mark Gordon. "Advances made here will bolster Wyoming's ability to produce another source of dispatchable power securely."

Among TerraPower's investors and development partners are Bechtel, GE Hitachi, PacifiCorp and Berkshire Hathaway.

The Natrium demonstration plant will include three separate project parts: a sodium test and fill facility, a fuel fabrication facility and the reactor itself. It is "an advanced nuclear reactor" that will use a sodium-based technology to cool the reactor instead of water.

"Our innovative Natrium technology will provide dispatchable carbon-free energy, gigawatt-scale energy storage and long-term jobs to the Lincoln County community," according to TerraPower's CEO.


Approximately 1,600 workers will be needed or hired for construction at the project's peak with it to span the next five years through 2030.

TerraPower, headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., applied for a rector construction permit to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April. Last month the NRC confirmed receipt of TerraPower's application which was the formal start of the federal licensing process.

It marks the first advanced nuclear reactor project to move from design into construction. And once the plant is operational, TerraPower estimates 250 people will be needed to support day-to-day activities, including security.

The Energy Department has a seven-year, $2 billion agreement to fund the project while TerraPower is matching the federal investment dollar-for-dollar for an estimated $4 billion. The Natrium demonstrator is co-funded by the DOE under its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program program.

This comes amid efforts by the Biden administration to modernize the country's power grid and the "unprecedented" 21-state initiative to do so.

Levesque said that TerraPower hopes to start nuclear-related works in 2026 subject to getting a permit from the NRC with the plant expected to be completed by or before 2030.

Gates, who said Kemmerer will be "the bedrock of America's energy future," wrote that "everything we do runs on electricity," as he added that "we need more abundant clean energy, not less."


"If we're going to solve climate change," Gates said, "it's going to take courage, commitment and partnership between the federal government and private industry," a point he said that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm "has made repeatedly."

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