A venture led by billionaire Bill Gates to develop enhanced nuclear energy announced Tuesday that it has selected a community in Wyoming as the location for a $4 billion demonstration facility that will receive half of its funding from the U.S. government.
TerraPower's Natrium facility will be located in Kemmerer, a small town in western Wyoming where the Naughton coal plant is scheduled to close in 2025. Permits in hand, the 345 megawatt facility is scheduled to open in 2028, as ordered by Congress.
The comparatively small "Natrium" reactor is comparable to those used in some U.S. Navy submarines and is intended to be faster and less expensive to build, as well as safer to operate, than conventional large-scale reactors.
Billionaire Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway owns the coal-fired Naughton plant and is closing it as part of the company's attempts to move to cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar.
Nuclear power stations do not release carbon dioxide and are widely regarded as a critical step toward decreasing emissions and combating climate change.
The federal government will contribute approximately $1.9 billion to the project, including $1.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by US President Joe Biden this week. Around $2.5 billion was included in the bill for advanced nuclear reactors.
"This is a significant government award," said Chris Levesque, president and chief executive officer of TerraPower, a joint venture between GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and TerraPower.
"This was required because the United States government and nuclear industry were lagging," he explained.
The U.S. has been competing with China and Russia, which also plan to manufacture and export sophisticated reactors.
Advanced reactors are projected to be smaller than conventional reactors and capable of being constructed in remote areas. The Natrium reactor would run on uranium enriched to a maximum of 20%, significantly more than today's fuel.
According to some nuclear energy specialists, highly enriched fuel may be an enticing target for extremists seeking to build a rudimentary nuclear bomb.
Proponents of advanced reactors assert that the plants are safer and generate less toxic waste.
Initially, Gates wanted to collaborate with the state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. on the construction of an experimental nuclear power plant outside Beijing.
TerraPower, on the other hand, was compelled to seek new partners after Donald Trump's administration prohibited nuclear deals with China.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stated that the project will provide hope to a town facing the closure of a coal plant.
"Through projects like this one, the energy communities that have powered us for generations have real opportunities to power our clean energy future."