A look ahead to advanced nuclear energy in 2022 |
On June 2, TerraPower announced it was building a demonstration nuclear reactor called Sodium at a disused coal-fired power plant in Wyoming.
The nuclear developer at the helm of Bill Gates teamed up with utility company Rocky Mountain Power after receiving a $ 80 million US Department of Energy grant to build one of the country’s first small modular reactors.
“Wyoming has been an energy leader for over a century,” Gates said at a press conference at the time, “and we hope that our investment in sodium will enable Wyoming to stay at the forefront for decades.”
All four candidate communities – Rock Springs, Kemmerer, Glenrock and Gillette – soon made it clear to TerraPower that they would welcome the nuclear power plant. But in November Kemmerer won with 2,750 residents and the 448 megawatt Naughton coal mine.
Now that a location has been announced, things will be quick – at least as far as nuclear projects are concerned.
“With the clock running out in 2021, this increases the urgency to focus as TerraPower seeks to meet the aggressive schedule to complete construction and start operations at the first sodium plant,” wrote Amber Schwab, a TerraPower spokeswoman. in an email to the Star Tribune. “The schedule prescribed by the Congress (Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program) stipulates that the plant must be completed by 2028.”
The Department of Energy has promised to fund half of the project, up to $ 1.6 billion, as long as sodium is up and running on time. It’s an ambitious goal. Previous nuclear reactors often took a decade or more to build, putting a strain on the developers’ already tight budgets; The congress hopes that the time pressure, in addition to the smaller size of the plants, will reduce costs in the long term.
Compared to the fanfare surrounding this year’s two big announcements, 2022 looks like a quieter year for sodium.
Before TerraPower can begin building the reactor, the first of two important permits must be approved. The submission of both applications is integrated into the seven-year schedule: a building permit in August 2023 and an operating permit in March 2026.
Meeting the congressional deadline means packing in 2022 with preliminary sessions and reports on issues in the weed such as the radionuclide transport method, the temporary accident interpretation method, and core flow blockage detection and prevention along with environmental coordination with various government agencies.
“The time is ripe for the next generation of nuclear energy,” wrote Schwab. “Just as 2021 was central to TerraPower’s history, the coming year will mark another significant step in the company’s efforts to move from research, development and engineering to the concrete future of advanced nuclear power.”
Uranium producers frustrated by international fuel prices that remained too low for US mines to compete were also stimulated by global nuclear growth and the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.
Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp, which recently bought multiple facilities in Wyoming from Russia’s Uranium One, is hoping market prices will soar over the next year that decommissioned U.S. mines will resume for the first time in years Letting Production Start Up – the first step in establishing a domestic supply chain for the more highly enriched uranium used in next generation reactors such as sodium.
It will be a busy year in Kemmerer as well. The construction of the project is expected to take several years and employ around 2,000 temporary workers – doubling the city’s population.
“In a small town like ours, which currently has about 2,750 inhabitants, you don’t have the accommodation for a few thousand additional people,” Kemmerer’s Mayor Bill Thek told the Star Tribune in November.
Some of these workers will end up moving in from out of town, Thek said. But with more than two years to go on construction, the city has time to modernize some existing apartment buildings and expand local services like the police presence before the influx arrives.
“I feel happy there,” said Thek. “It won’t happen overnight.”