Bill Gates-Backed TerraPower Picks Wyoming for First Advanced Nuclear Reactor

Bill Gates backed TerraPower, a company that wants to build a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. Adding a touch of symbolism for the old, in with the new, the company says their plant would be constructed near the premises of a pair of coal plants slated for retirement by 2025.

The new reactor is expected to have a fast reactor that can increase output to 500 megawatts when needed. The company said in a post that the reactor can generate enough power to power 400,000 homes. Reducing the need for hazardous storage is one of the benefits of burning spent plutonium and uranium.

Chris Levesque, CEO of TerraPower, told the Guardian that the plant will be air-cooled and allow for quick emergency shutdown. Scientific American notes that the sodium approach can burn on contact with air and potentially explode if submerged in water because it can maintain its liquid form at high temperature.

TerraPower's Wyoming project could require up to 2,000 people for construction and 250 once fully operational. The town of Kemmerer has over 2,500 residents.

Gates has poured a lot of resources into TerraPower since he co-founded it in 2006 but around half of the Natrium project in Wyoming will be subsidized by the U.S. taxpayers. The company will receive over $2 billion from the government, of which over $1 billion will come from funds dedicated to advanced nuclear reactor. The total cost of the plant should be around $4 billion. TerraPower was one of two U.S.-based firms that received $160 million from the Department of Energy last year to develop the new reactor.

The cost to build the Natrium reactor is a small portion of the total cost of the plant. It has faced cost overruns and missed deadlines.

The project to build an experimental plant near Beijing was cut short due to increased regulatory restrictions during the Trump presidency. TerraPower's Natrium would be the first reactor operating on a large scale outside of Russia, and it would be the first of its kind in the world. France had spent a lot of money on a prototype nuclear reactor but decided against it in 2019. Rolls-Royce recently announced a small nuclear reactor, which is one of the designs other firms are considering.