Experimental Nuclear Power Plant Sponsored by Bill Gates Goes to Tiny City of Wyoming | Wyoming
A tiny town in the leading US coal-mining state Wyoming is set to become the home of an experimental nuclear power project supported by Bill Gates.
The new sodium nuclear power plant is to be located in Kemmerer, officials announced on Tuesday, and will replace a coal-fired power plant that is due to be decommissioned in 2025.
“Our innovative technology will help ensure the continuous production of reliable electricity while transforming our energy system and creating new, well-paying jobs in Wyoming,” said Chris Levesque, CEO of TerraPower, the company behind the Gates-founded project 15 years. Construction is scheduled to start in 2024.
The project will employ up to 2,000 people during construction and 250 after commissioning in a state where the coal industry has lost jobs. Kemmerer, one of four cities that host the project, has a population of 2,600 and is located approximately 210 km northeast of Salt Lake City.
If it was as reliable as conventional nuclear power, the 345 megawatt power plant would produce enough climate-friendly electricity to supply around 250,000 households. The announcement came a few days after the meeting of world leaders at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and chairman of TerraPower, announced plans for the Wyoming project in June along with officials from Rocky Mountain Power, the Joe Biden government and the state of Wyoming, which produces about 40% of the country’s coal.
“We believe sodium will be a game changer for the energy industry,” said Gates at the start of the project in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Proponents of the project, which will have a sodium-cooled fast reactor and energy storage for molten salt, say it will work better, be safer, and cost less than traditional nuclear power.
“Sodium will be the next safety improvement. The important thing is that it does not rely on external power sources, pumps and additional equipment to assist the facility with recovery in the event of an emergency, “Levesque said, referring to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by a tsunami , in which emergency power generators failed.
The high heat transfer properties of sodium enable the sodium plant to be air-cooled. This allows the plant to be shut down quickly in an emergency, and the lack of emergency power generators and pumps saves costs, Levesque said.
Others are skeptical of the benefits of sodium over water for cooling like in conventional nuclear power plants.
“Using liquid sodium has many problems. It’s a very volatile material that can catch fire when exposed to air or water, ”said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear energy safety for the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.
Countries like the US have experimented with sodium-cooled fast reactors for decades, but only Russia has used such a reactor on a large scale to generate electricity, Lyman said.
“To be honest, I don’t get the motivation,” said Lyman. “There are some people who are just strong advocates for this and they somehow won the day here by convincing Bill Gates that this is good technology.”