Gate’s Modular Reactor Announced for Wyoming

November 17, 2021


TerraPower, a start-up co-founded by Bill Gates to revolutionize designs for nuclear reactors, has chosen Kemmerer, Wyoming, as the preferred location for its first demonstration reactor. It aims to build the plant in the frontier-era coal town by 2028.

Construction of the plant will be a job bonanza for Kemmerer, with 2,000 workers at its peak, said TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque in a video call with reporters Tuesday.

It will also provide new clean-energy jobs to a region dominated by the coal and gas industry. Today, a local power plant, a coal mine and a natural gas processing plant combined provide more than 400 jobs — a sizeable number for a region that has only around 3,000 residents.

“New industry coming to any community is generally good news,” Kemmerer Mayor William Thek told CNBC. “You have to understand, most of our nearby towns are 50 miles or more from Kemmerer. Despite that, workers travel those distances every day for work in our area.”

For TerraPower, picking a location was a matter of geological and technical factors, such as seismic and soil conditions, and community support, said Levesque.

Once built, the plant will provide a baseload of 345 megawatts, with the potential to expand its capacity to 500 megawatts.

For reference, 1 gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts, of energy will power a midsize city, and a small town can operate on about 1 megawatt, according to a rule of thumb Microsoft co-founder Gates provided in his recent book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.” The United States uses 1,000 gigawatts and the world needs 5,000 gigawatts, he wrote.

It will cost about $4 billion to build the plant, with half of that money coming from TerraPower and the other half from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

“It’s a very serious government grant. This was necessary, I should mention, because the U.S. government and the U.S. nuclear industry was falling behind,” said Levesque.

“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,” Levesque said. “So the U.S. government was concerned that the U.S. hasn’t been moving forward in this way.”

Once built, the plant should provide power for 60 years, Levesque said.

The Kemmerer plant 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. Sodium has a higher boiling point and can absorb more heat than water, which means high pressure does not build up inside the reactor, reducing the risk of an explosion.

Also, Natrium plants do not require an outside energy source to operate their cooling systems, which can be a vulnerability in the case of an emergency shutdown. This contributed to the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, when a tsunami shut down the diesel generators running its backup cooling system, contributing to a meltdown and release of radioactive material.

Natrium plants can also store heat in tanks of molten salt, conserving the energy for later use like a battery and enabling the plant to bump its capacity up from 345 to 500 megawatts for five hours.

The plants are also smaller than conventional nuclear power plants, which should make them faster and cheaper to build than conventional power plants. TerraPower aims to get the cost of its plants down to $1 billion, a quarter of the budget for the first one in Kemmerer.

“One important thing to realize is the first plant always costs more,” said Levesque.

Finally, Natrium plants produce less waste, a problematic and dangerous byproduct of nuclear fission.

The Kemmerer plant still faces a couple of hurdles, including federal permitting.

“There’s a comprehensive licensing process overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that, frankly, is expensive,” Levesque said. “There are many, many reviews.”

Also, the fuel that the Natrium plant uses is called high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, which is not yet available at commercial scale.

The existing fleet of nuclear reactors in the United States runs uranium-235 fuel enriched up to 5%, the Department of Energy says, while HALEU is enriched between 5% and 20%.

“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.

Once built, the plant will be turned over to Rocky Mountain Power, a division of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s PacifiCorp, to operate.

There, it will become part of Rocky Mountain Power’s decarbonization plan.

Coal-fired plants like the Naughton facility in Kemmerer “have benefited our customers for decades with very low-cost power,” Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, said Tuesday. “And we appreciate that. But times are changing.”

“External requirements from the federal government, state governments, regulatory agencies are going to require that we change, and we’re going to need to decarbonize,” he said. “As we go down that path, we see the Natrium project as being incredibly valuable to our customers.”

Wind power is also a part of that effort. So far, Rocky Mountain Power has built 2,000 megawatts of wind-power capacity in Wyoming, and that’s going to grow.

“Wyoming is a tremendous wind-resource state,” Hoogeveen said. “We expect to build many more thousands of megawatts of wind capacity in the state.”

But the nuclear power plant in Kemmerer will be a key bridge for the state, Hoogeveen said.

“It is a great spot for absorbing the intermittency of the renewable resources and using the storage that’s built in that is so incredibly valuable to us,” he said.

Former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Greg Jaczko weighed in on twitter:

Greg Jaczko on Twitter:

Key takeaways from this article:

1) “It aims to build the plant in the frontier-era coal town by 2028.” The license has not yet been submitted to the NRC. (It’s almost 2022).

2) “The plant will provide a baseload of 345 megawatts”

3) “It will cost about $4 billion to build the plant, with half of that money coming from… the U.S.” (That makes the cost $11000 per kW of capacity. Per a recent DOE report, wind is about $800/kW. Assuming half the generation per kW, wind is still about 8 times cheaper.)

4) “TerraPower aims to get the cost of its plants down to $1 billion”. (or $2750/kW.) Higher than TODAY’s prices for electricity, not counting likely cost decreases for renewables.

5) “Also, the fuel that the Natrium plant uses …is not yet available at commercial scale.”

6) “So far, Rocky Mountain Power has built 2,000 megawatts of wind-power capacity in Wyoming, and that’s going to grow…We expect to build many more thousands of megawatts of wind capacity in the state.” Of course, but that by itself is not news.

7) “It is a great spot for absorbing the intermittency of the renewable resources and using the storage that’s built in that is so incredibly valuable to us” So the plant will be used not as baseload power but as intermittent dispatchable power.

This will further increase the cost of power. Basically, they are building storage for costs that are much higher than today’s prices for storage. All to come on line by 2028 at the earliest, when everything will be cheaper. Why do these stories keep getting written?

18 Responses to “Gate’s Modular Reactor Announced for Wyoming”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    “It will cost about $4 billion to build the plant”

    OK. Maybe, maybe not. I guess we will see what the best case analysis turns out to be for about a 1/3rd-of-a-gigawatt plant.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    The little nooks are claimed to be faster and cheaper though right now they’re slower and expensiver. Even IF the price comes down, building as much power is likely to cost at least as much and take at least as long. This one is scheduled for 2028. Ha ha ha hahahahahaha ha ha tee hee! Good one. Even in the unlikely event it does happen, that’s 1 small reactor built, maybe, 2 years before we need to have eliminated at least 90% of GHGs and after we have to eliminate most, to keep the area under the curve as small as possible.

    “Natrium” reactors produce “less” waste? How does that compare with the nuclear waste a wind turbine produces, again? In volume? In deadliness? In durability? The reactor is supposed to last 60 years. How long is that compared to the life of its waste? How long compared to its safe operation?

    Nook boosters whine about clean safe renewable subsidies. But federal government, which they abhor, is paying an established industry that’s been around for 75 years, half the cost of a $4 billion+ reactor. Who will pay the inevitable cost overruns?

    Coal… “benefited our customers for decades with very low-cost power,” And very high human and ecological health costs, that others have paid.

    I’m with Greg Jaczko.
    “a great spot [spot??] for absorbing the intermittency of the renewable resources and using the storage that’s built in that is so incredibly valuable to us,”
    So if it’s the battery that’s so valuable, why don’t we just build more almost infinitely more benign on and offshore wind, solar PV, CSP, clothesline paradox solar, hydro, micro-hydro, geothermal, tidal, and some batteries?

    The answer is obvious. This issue, and this article, are trumpet-blaring announcements of the mental illness of the ruling class. Malignant narcissistic addiction to attempted domination of people, countries, the world, and atoms.

    So the reactor doesn’t have permits, the fuel’s not available, but don’t worry, more subsidies will do the trick—or at least turn another trick (the public).

    Socialized costs, privatized profits. What a perfect way to destroy a democracy. Wish we had one.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    “This was necessary, I should mention, because the U.S. government and the U.S. nuclear industry was falling behind,” Chris Levesque, TerraPower CEO

    Oh, no! Next thing you know, we’ll be falling behind in countries invaded, innocent people of color killed, and…heaven forfend, percentage of money held by billionaires.

    The US’s fine record of well, not quite firsts:

    Life expectancy: 28th of 36 OECD countries
    Life expectancy for US poor equals Sudan, Pakistan, & is declining
    Infant mortality: 55th
    Obesity: Last in OECD
    Mental health, inequality: Last in OECD
    Labor rights: Last of rich countries
    Education: 14th of 37 rich countries by 1 measure, similar by others

    The Gestapo’s euphemism for torture was Verschärfte Vernehmung, which translates as “Enhanced Interrogation”. Various Nazis were hanged [after the war] for applying Verschärfte Vernehmung to their prisoners.”

    ‘Make America 36th Out of 41 Developed Nations Again’:
    Social Justice Index of Developed Nations Puts US Near Bottom

    Some of the things the US IS ahead on:
    1st in mass shootings
    Most guns/capita (2nd is Yemen)
    Top arms dealer
    US & Russia won’t sign nuclear no-first-strike pledge
    By far biggest military spender, invader, holder of foreign bases (140 countries)
    Alone w/ death penalty among developed countries
    Highest incarceration rate in world,
    Alone in imprisoning children + mentally ill + mentally disabled people
    Most money spent on health care for worst outcomes
    The only rich country w/ no family leave
    Vies with Turkey & S. Africa for starkest inequality
    Denies voting rights to 10 million citizens in DC & territories, & those w/ legal convictions, but it uses those people to stack representation numbers. Plus gerrymandering, voter suppression.

    1st in number of international treaties it won’t sign:
    Kyoto, ICC, comprehensive test ban, law of the sea, biodiversity (pro), discrimination against women, child labor & rights of children, land mines, cluster…munitions, arms trade (anti), counterfeiting (anti), corruption (anti), protection against enforced disappearance, disabilities, torture (anti)… & more.

  4. John Oneill Says:

    ‘That makes the cost $11000 per kW of capacity. Per a recent DOE report, wind is about $800/kW. Assuming half the generation per kW, wind is still about 8 times cheaper’ – says Mark Jacobson.
    Jacobson’s own plans call for overbuilding renewables by about seven times, to counter intermittency. Since land-based wind, in good locations, has more like a third the capacity factor of well run nuclear, that would make this first-of-a-kind reactor already cheaper – on a grid with no fossil fuel or hydro backup. Jacobson’s proposal to massively boost hydro instantaneous output, by putting many more generators on existing dams, has also been criticised by his own former colleagues. It’s very doubtful that the water will be there to squander in a changing climate.
    John O’Neill

    • J4Zonian Says:

      As always, John, bullshit. Cite the source. Specifically.

      1. The grid is overbuilt now, and always has been, because all energy sources need back up.

      2. No one I’ve ever heard has called for anywhere near that much.

      3. You obviously either haven’t comprehended or refuse to admit how a mix of clean safe renewable energy works. Refer to any number of my comments, or the writings of David Roberts, Ramez Naam, Michael Barnard, and others.

      4.The fraudulent Clack attacks* on one of Jacobson’s studies have been answered point by point by Jacobson. (See Cleantechnica.) And btw, Clack has said we have enough nukes already to provide all the rest of our power with renewable energy. He’s wrong of course; we already have way too many nukes and should close them before another one melts down and kills people. Which of course means building clean safe renewable energy way, way faster than we are, while helping other countries to do the same.

      * 18 of the 23 alleged authors of the attack had nothing to do with the paper; something that the academic community justifiably condemns.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Grid-wise, it’s meaningless to calculate wind or PV solar without bringing in different classes of storage (hours, days, seasons) to time-shift the power.

      Meanwhile, the greater the coverage of around the clock of availability of cheapish wind/PV/storage, the lower the cost-effectiveness of power sources that need expensive maintenance whether the power is used or not. That is, will the nukes be able to sell enough power to cover costs even when its price is undercut much of the time by cheaply-built wind/PV/solar?

      Nuclear thermal power plants would need to leverage reliability as part of its contract value…unless they’re run like the power plants in Texas.

  5. John Oneill Says:

    Here’s Dave Roberts on Vox –
    ‘The problem here is not so much that anyone opposes R&D so much as the fact that too few people really support it enough to make it a priority. Consequently, the US energy research budget remains abysmally low and advanced nuclear, like almost every promising clean technology, receives only a fraction of the support it should.’
    Mark Jacobson’s exact proposals are hard to get a handle on – he usually talks about percentages of energy from different sources, and in most cases that’s over 90% wind and solar. Germany has 56 GW of solar and 63 GW of wind, for a maximum demand of around 80GW; a Green politician at the COP was calling for 2x more solar and 6x more wind, but I can’t find a citation offhand. If you look at today’s power production, solar made a brief and unimpressive showing, about four GW max for a few hours – doubling it would have little effect. Wind was a much more solid thirty to forty percent of demand, and of installed capacity, all day, but it recently ran below 5% of nameplate, and less than that of total demand, for a whole month. Multiplying the capacity by six would hardly have touched the sides on the way down, especially if, as Jacobson calls for, you want to cover all energy, not just electricity.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Clean safe renewable energy can provide all the energy Germany, the US, and the world needs. That’s been shown by numerous studies and other countries.

      When a troll cites “today’s” energy it’s always cherry picking. I’m betting if both solar and wind were high O’Neill wouldn’t report it. And of course, s/he’s cherry picking Germany because despite its enormous efforts it’s one of the most difficult countries in the world to provide entirely with native clean safe renewable energy. Of course it’s also cherry picking because it’s such a small area. And it’s cherry picking this moment in time because the job isn’t finished.

      O’Neill’s relentless—and relentlessly stupid—cherry picking is like installing a starter in a car—just a starter, no engine—and saying See? cars don’t work! S/he can keep doing it if s/he wants but it’s not fooling anyone here and I’m going to keep pointing out that s/he’s lying.

      Once again…
      it’s the mix of clean safe renewable energy that’s the solution. Hydro, micro-hydro, on & offshore wind, residential & utility PV, CSP, clothesline paradox solar, geothermal, some tidal… in the context of a much wider grid with demand response. Germany’s mix; Iberia’s hydro, on & offshore wind, & solar PV & CSP; Morocco’s hydro, solar PV & CSP; Central Asian solar and wind; North Sea wind…

      David Roberts has made it known for years he has no patience for the nuke-vs.-non argument. There’s no way to win it because though nukes are a terrible idea in every way, they’re profitable, centralized sources popular with the people who run the world—and their trolls. Because of the intransigence of those anti-renewable psychopaths, some on the left who know better are trying to use nukes to bribe the right into allowing SOMETHING to happen. But giving into them on nukes, carbon capture, hydrogen, or any other right wing pipe dream lies means taking the focus off the real solutions to the climate and larger ecological crisis, and threatening the success of the transition to sustainability. And despite Roberts’ oft-stated reluctance to wade into the argument, he pretty much settles it in the article cited by showing nukes are all the bad things they are, making them unworkable.

      In the end, nook boosterism and climate denying delayalism are inextricably linked. Only when one refuses to acknowledge that we have to eliminate emissions by 2030 (not the net-zero-by-2050 lie) do nukes even seem to make any sense; it would take that long to have any chance of developing them. Accepting climate reality means nukes can be of no help in this crisis. (Accepting psychological and ecological reality means they never make any sense at all.)

      If we want to avoid the end of civilization, we have to provide energy for the world with sources that exist, are safe, can be built fast enough, cheaply enough, and are responsive to needs. Nukes fail on every one of those criteria.

      Despite the attempt to distract, there’s still no citation. O’Neill should retract the ridiculous claim.

  6. John Oneill Says:

    Wind and solar haven’t been doing much of a job cutting emissions – they’ve been rising faster every year, till this one ( because of covid.) Fossil fuels made 80% of world energy thirty years ago, and they still do – except we’re using much more energy.
    The call for 6x more wind and 2x more solar in Germany was a comment in a blog post by Chris Keefer, a Canadian emergency room doctor and pro-nuclear campaigner ( not right-wing by any means, either.) He was inspired to get into the debate when he realised how many people were in hospital because of air pollution – and that his province of Ontario was the first area in North America to eliminate a large coal-power industry, by refurbishing their Candu reactors. You can track it down yourself if you’re that keen.
    How come I see articles in ‘Renew Economy’ and the like all the time about solar and wind reaching another landmark figure for percentage of grid power somewhere, but if I point out the inevitable relapse to ‘largely fossil’, I’m trolling ?
    As a backbone of our energy system Mark Jacobson and his accomplices grant Finland 29 GW capacity of onshore windpower, 27 GW offshore, and almost 50 GW of photovoltaics. For reference notice that our maximum electricity demand is around 14GW in the winter and 9 GW in the summer. Total energy consumption is somewhat less than 400 TWh. In size we are about 1% of EU which has around 90GW of photovoltaics installed. So according to Mark on a windy sunny day production could be more than 10 times our demand and around 7 times the maximum (winter) demand. Our installed PV capacity would be comparable to whole PV capacity in EU today which has, after all, spent around 10 years constructing it. This all seems a bit intimidating.

    Considering how off-scale this is it is noticeable that Jacobson spends very little time spelling out the details of how exactly are we supposed to cope with implied massive swings in production. From his excel file I cannot find details on what he assumed for our grid and how much his assumptions end up costing. He also says there won’t be any new hydropower (we have 3.2 GW), but there might be pumped hydro storage. They tell us “…we restrict our calculations to assume each country can generate all of its annually-averaged power independently of other countries, since ultimately this goal may reduce international conflict.” So that water will be sloshing somewhere in Finland since otherwise we might invade Sweden and Norway (and Russia while we are at it). Makes sense. If I read this correctly our hydropower is supposed to be configured in such a way that it pumps water upstream at massively higher powers than downstream. Somehow I feel we need a 2nd opinion from someone with actual competence in engineering. (Maybe Mark meant that we were supposed to use hydrogen storage somehow? Well, no he didn’t. According to him just 1.24 GW, out of total average demand close to 30 GW, or about half of the transport demand was diverted to electrolysis.’

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Wind and solar haven’t been doing much of a job cutting emissions – they’ve been rising faster every year, till this one ( because of covid.)

      That’s the “growing population of consumers” problem. For comparison, how have nuclear power plants addressed those increasing emissions during the past 10 years of wind/PV growth?

      I’m not against nuclear power per se, but I am against BS using theoretical costs and timelines instead of real-world costs and timelines, even if the real-world costs “unfairly” include coal-backed protestors and overly cautious bureaucrats.

      The race is on: Maybe, after wind/PV/storage take an early lead, the nuclear power plants will start coming online and proving their worth (including filling seasonal storage in times of excess). In any case, the biggest wins will be from displacing the dirtiest (for human health) and least efficient (for GHG emission) coal plants outside of the US and Europe.

      • John Oneill Says:

        Nuclear plants have been online and proving their worth for forty years – the higher the percentage of nuclear on a grid, the lower the coal. Those pushed into premature retirement have also proved the reverse – shut down a nuke, burn more gas and coal. As shown in Japan, Germany, California, New York, Vermont, Austria, Italy…

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Nuclear plants have been online and proving their worth for forty years….

          But are they cost-effective to build in 2021?

          I think nuclear power plants have both lower overhead and higher nasty coal displacement value in China.

          I agree that any panicked premature shutdown was bad (if there were no other reason), but at least one utility in California said they were shutting down the power plant because it was too costly to run, and others are starting to suffer more often from higher cooling water temps (as in a European heat wave, when there is greatest need). A lot of them are just aging out.

          We’ll see what this Wyoming pilot program produces in six years, both in terms of its construction costs and useful output. We can compare it to a comparable amount—including any budget overruns—spent on wind/PV/solar in the US over the same period (granting some one-time anomalous costs for this new design). The comparison will include the energy produced by the new wind and PV solar plants before the modular reactor first starts up.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          If by proving their worth you mean melting down, nearly melting down, leaking, contaminating thousands of square miles, killing people… sure. Proving they’re worth stopping.

          The higher the anything on a grid besides coal, the lower the coal. That’s logic. And math. Coal is being replaced by clean safe renewable energy and unfortunately, gas. Not nearly enough of the former because of the same right wing psychotics who are in charge and pushing nukes.

          Coal and gas aren’t used because nukes are being shut down; they’re being used because psychopaths are stopping clean safe renewable energy from being built.

          Germany—highly industrialized 4th largest economy in the world, is infested with fossil fuel magnates, and coal unions are strategically placed in crucial states (as in the US). Coal use went up slightly after they shut their nukes, because there were already some with contracts. It soon shrank below former levels and has been shrinking ever since. Now its electricity is half RE.

          Japan’s government is partly captured by utilities (they have no fossil fuels and import 90% of their energy). But they mostly replaced the reactors shut down after Fukushima Daiichi with conservation. With their phenomenal solar, on- and offshore wind, and geothermal resources, they could have a mostly RE-powered country by now.

          California is also infested with government partly owned by fossil fuel corporations (apparently prison guards have a big share, too, as bizarre as that seems), but because the populace is progressive, it’s also building a lot of clean safe renewable energy. Cal. failed to pass 1 of a bunch of bills gov. Jerry Brown pushed through for solar roofs, RE goals, etc.—the 1 that would have made it all work better and enabled integration of even more RE—the 1 to connect the grid better to points east. New York is building wind power, which will require less gas backup than the nuke it closed. It’s not doing it fast enough, because of lies created by fossil fuel corporations & the lunatic far right.

          Vermont’s production is 100% clean safe renewable energy.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            “Japan has nine times Germany’s renewable energy resources.
            Yet Japan makes about nine times less of its electricity from renewables (excluding hydropower) than Germany does.”

            …because Japan’s government allows its powerful allies [aka owners]—regional utility monopolies—to protect their profits by blocking competitors… utilities own almost all the wires and power plants and hence can decide whom they will allow to compete against their own assets… These conditions have caused an extraordinary divergence between Japan’s and Germany’s electricity outcomes.”

            Lovins, RMI

      • John Oneill Says:

        ‘In any case, the biggest wins will be from displacing the dirtiest (for human health) and least efficient (for GHG emission) coal plants outside of the US and Europe.’
        Many of the coal plants being built in Asia are ultra-supercritical, producing steam at over 700 C. The coal industry calls them ‘High Efficiency Low Emissions’-HELE, though of course the emissions are only low compared to older coal plants. They’ve been built in Vietnam, the Phillipines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India. Once built, they’ll keep using them – these tropical countries usually have a good solar resource, except during the rainy season, but less reliable wind, and they’ll still want power at night. An outfit called Thorcon are trying to build a molten salt reactor, using shipbuilding techniques, for Indonesia, which they’re aiming to be cheaper than coal for capital cost, and much cheaper for running costs. I’ve no idea what their chances are, but I think without something like that, those coal plants will keep being built, and used, for decades.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          And just wait until air conditioning takes off in those low-latitude steamy countries. (Like my hometown of New Orleans, it does not really cool down at night.)

    • J4Zonian Says:

      “I’m trolling ?”



Leave a Reply to J4Zonian Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: