Japan, Inc., U.S. and Bill Gates team up on high tech nuclear reactor in Wyoming

by WorldTribune Staff, January 5, 2022

Bill Gates and the U.S. government, with an assist from Japan, have chosen a Wyoming frontier-era coal town as the site for the Gates-founded TerraPower company’s first high tech nuclear power plant.

TerraPower has chosen Kemmerer as the site for the $4 billion power plant. Half the funding will come from TerraPower and half from the United States government, the company said.

An artists rendering of a Natrium power plant from TerraPower.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will soon sign a memorandum of understanding to provide technical support for the project, 198 Japan News reported on Jan. 1.

Kemmerer was founded in 1897 by coal miners and still employs people in the coal and natural gas industries.

According to TerraPower, the Wyoming facility will be the first to use an advanced nuclear design called Natrium, developed by TerraPower with GE-Hitachi. Natrium plants use liquid sodium as a cooling agent instead of water.

“China and Russia are continuing to build new plants with advanced technologies like ours, and they seek to export those plants to many other countries around the world,” TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque said in a video call with reporters. “So the U.S. government was concerned that the U.S. hasn’t been moving forward in this way.”

The fuel that the Natrium plant uses is called high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, which is not yet available at commercial scale, CNBC noted in a November report.

Currently, nuclear reactors in the United States run uranium-235 fuel enriched up to 5 percent, according to the Department of Energy. HALEU is enriched between 5 percent and 20 percent.

“Sadly, we don’t have this enrichment capability in the U.S. today,” Levesque said. “And this is an area of great concern of the U.S. government and specifically the Department of Energy.” But it’s coming, he said. “I’m really certain that we’re going to establish that capability” in another public-private partnership, similar to the way the Natrium power plant demonstration is being built.

Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency has a history of operating sodium-cooled fast reactors such as the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the Joyo experimental fast reactor in Ibaraki Prefecture. The agency is considering providing operational data and designs to TerraPower.

The sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), was developed by France, Russia and China from a concept pioneered in the United States in the 1950s.

TerraPower said it hopes to complete construction on the plant by 2028. TerraPower said the plant will provide a baseload of 345 megawatts, with the potential to expand its capacity to 500 megawatts.

In his book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”, Gates said that 1 gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts, of energy will power a midsize city, and a small town can operate on about 1 megawatt. The United States uses 1,000 gigawatts and the world needs 5,000 gigawatts, he wrote.

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