Gate’s Small Modular Reactor Delayed (again)

December 14, 2022

In my 2016 video above, you can hear Bill Gates say (at 0:55) that “ 2022, if everything goes perfectly, our demo reactor will be in place..”.
Well, nobody expects perfection. But things have slipped a little.


A nuclear energy project in Wyoming, backed by Bill Gates and the U.S. Energy Department, is delayed by at least two years amid worries about supplies of a special fuel currently made in Russia, the head of TerraPower, the company building it said on Wednesday.

TerraPower LLC, a venture founded by billionaire Gates, said last year its $4 billion Natrium demonstration plant would be built in Kemmerer, Wyoming on a site where a coal plant is set to shut in 2025.

U.S. companies including TerraPower are trying to develop a new generation of small nuclear plants to help cut carbon emissions but only one firm sells the fuel it needs, and it is Russian. The fuel, called high assay low enriched uranium, or HALEU, is enriched up to 20%, much above the up to 5% level today’s reactors use.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower, as well as for others in our industry,” said Chris Levesque, president and chief executive of TerraPower.

“TerraPower is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to being able to bring the Natrium reactor into operation,” he said. The 345-megawatt plant had been slated to open in 2028.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is looking to downblend some of its stockpile of weapons-grade uranium to help provide fuel for the reactor projects. Levesque said TerraPower will provide a schedule update next year when it knows more about HALEU supply including the availability of DOE material for downblending.

The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Instead of relying on our adversaries like Russia for uranium, the United States must produce its own supply of advanced nuclear fuel,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, who has introduced a bill to boost domestic production of HALEU.

Only one company outside Russia, U.S.-based Centrus Energy Corp (LEU.A) is licensed to produce the fuel but it is years away from making commercial amounts.

TerraPower said it will continue to work with PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N), to study adding up to five more Natrium reactors by 2035. “We are confident the federal programs to catalyze the production of HALEU will be operational in a time frame that works for these plants,” Levesque said.

Below, my piece from 2021.

Below, GE Executive (they have their own design) says that he is confident that by 2050, their reactor could produce electricity only about twice as expensive as what solar and wind do today.


6 Responses to “Gate’s Small Modular Reactor Delayed (again)”

  1. Anthony O'Brien Says:

    Why use the name Natrium? Is a Sodium nuclear power plant too scary??

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Maybe scary for people on low-sodium diets?

    • neilrieck Says:

      Sodium is the colloquial English name for Natrium (Latin). Recall that this element in “the periodic table of elements” (used by chemists all over the world) employs the symbol Na so that common table salt has the formula NaCl

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    It’s hard for those who can add and subtract to see this as anything but insanity. It’s more like 3 1/2 times the current price of wind & solar, which now includes offshore wind with a marginal capacity factor of 63% and rising. Nook boosters like to talk about capacity factors in the 90%s but the world’s reactors are more like 75-85% in the last 10 years, even before figuring in The French Fiasco of 2022. I can’t keep track any more but it seems like hundreds of gigawatts of offshore wind alone will be built in the next 5 years. That’s equal to hundreds of actual large reactors, and will bring the price down to the point where offshore wind plus the small amounts of storage needed to bring it to 100% capacity factor will still be 1/3 of the imaginary price of nonexistent nooks. Still too cheap to meter or too expensive to matter?

    • John Oneill Says:

      Since you claim to be numerate, but have trouble tracking down data, you’ll be interested in these figures from the world-leading British offshore wind industry.
      The average for all offshore wind farms, 43 of them, for the year up to May 2022, was 42.2%. None made it into the fifties. The load duration curve shows that for the whole fleet, for 30% of the time, output was below 20% of nameplate capacity, which suggests that the amount of storage needed, if the gas turbines weren’t there, would be far from ‘small’. There have been periods over the last week when the remaining 3.7 GW of German nuclear were making more power than their 65 GW of wind, including offshore, and their 62.5 GW of solar, combined. This (plus the gas shortage) explains why the Green Party minister in charge of energy, whose whole political career has been predicated on closing nuclear whatever the consequences, has very reluctantly agreed to keep the three reactors running past their scheduled shut-down at the end of this month.

  3. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Offer to buy the HALEU from Iran in the interim, They are making lots.

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