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Wyoming powers ahead with Bill Gates-backed sodium-cooled nuclear generation plant

We wanted to post a dad joke about sodium, but we thought: Na, people will groan...

TerraPower – the Bill Gates-founded nuclear company – and Warren Buffett-owned PacifiCorp are hooking up to build a Natrium reactor at a decommissioned coal plant in Wyoming.

The exact location of the demonstration plant is not expected to be announced until the end of 2021. And those behind the scheme recognise that the project is still at an early stage with further project evaluation required as well as state and federal regulatory approvals.

However, once up and running the demonstration project is billed as being a “fully functioning power plant… intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology,” the company said in a statement.

The project is based around a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. According to boffins, the storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MW of power for more than five-and-a-half hours when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes.

If all is well and good, the Natrium plant should be able to integrate with renewable resources and could lead to faster, more cost-effective decarbonization of electricity generation.

Those behind the scheme also hope that this approach should help to reduce the complexity of similar projects and shave costs and the amount of time it takes to construct.

Announcing the tie-up, Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower, said: “Together with PacifiCorp, we’re creating the energy grid of the future where advanced nuclear technologies provide good-paying jobs and clean energy for years to come.

“The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonisation and emissions-reduction goals,” he added.

For those with a keen interest in leaner, greener power generation the announcement should spark plenty of interest and fuel some enlightened thought and discussion.

For those who like to read the runes differently, the fact that this plant is to be built on the site of an old coal mine in one of the US’ major coal-producing states will be enough to power a few grey cells - enough to raise a smile at least. ®

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