TerraPower recently announced plans to build its Natrium reactor near a retiring coal plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. This is an incredible opportunity for the state, which currently generates almost 90% of its electricity generation from fossil fuels. The Natrium design represents the future of advanced nuclear reactor technology and is well-suited to provide clean and efficient power to communities across the United States, including the Mountain West.
The U.S. Department of Energy is extremely excited about this project and plans to invest nearly $2 billion to support the licensing, construction and demonstration of this first-of-a-kind reactor by 2028.
The Natrium project will create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs once the plant is online. It will not only leverage the existing energy infrastructure already in place at the coal plant but also the local power plant workforce who can work with utilities to transition or apply their skills to higher paying jobs in nuclear energy.
The New Look of Nuclear
TerraPower leads one of two teams awarded initial funding through our Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program to test, license and build their advanced reactor within the next seven years. The Natrium reactor offers significant improvements over today’s nuclear power plants and will help set the tone for a new portfolio of U.S. advanced reactors that are under development to ultimately compete in the U.S. and global markets.
Natrium is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that is paired with a molten salt energy storage system to flexibly operate with renewable power sources. Its simplified design and use of advanced construction methods will make it faster and more affordable to build, and its constant high operating temperature can be used to generate carbon-free heat or electricity to drive other energy-intensive manufacturing processes.
Natrium will be the first commercial reactor ever in the state of Wyoming and one of the first advanced reactors to operate in the United States, expanding the state’s already impressive energy portfolio.
Bringing Jobs Back to Wyoming
Wyoming is an energy-rich state and our nation’s largest producer of coal, natural gas and crude oil. Roughly 80% of its electricity production comes from coal-fired power plants that have been steadily declining since the mid-2000s.
In 2019, the state’s largest utility, PacifiCorp, announced it would reduce its coal fleet by two-thirds by 2030 and some local economists project the state could lose around 1,600 coal jobs over the next decade. These closures will directly impact the communities built around the plants—losing millions in state and local tax revenue that help pay for public schools and infrastructure projects.
By demonstrating the Natrium reactor near the retiring Naughton coal plant, TerraPower can not only take advantage of the existing energy infrastructure that is in place (such as cooling water intakes and electrical distribution), but also the workforce. This project leverages innovations from the concentrated solar power, tunneling, and combined cycle gas turbine industries. It also intends to utilize the latest advanced construction and manufacturing methods to bring thousands of jobs back to the area.
Hundreds of workers will be needed to fabricate complex parts and components, thousands of skilled construction workers will be required to build the nuclear and energy islands, and hundreds of plant operators, maintenance crews, and security staff will be needed full-time to operate one of the most-advanced nuclear reactor systems in the world.
Natrium’s thermal energy storage system also provides opportunities for new markets to evolve in the region. The high-temperature heat or electricity generated by the reactor can be used to produce hydrogen to create carbon-free synthetic fuels or decarbonize the oil refining process. It can also be directed to power local mining operations in the area to help lower emissions in the extraction of coal, natural gas, and uranium fuel.
Gaining Access to Nuclear
The Biden-Harris Administration believes no community should be left behind. This investment through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not only bring back jobs to the area, but cleaner air and improved health for the community.
Once operating, the Natrium plant is estimated to produce nearly 3 million megawatt hours of carbon-free power each year and avoid almost 2 million metric tons of carbon. It will also avoid other pollutants that lead to smog and acid rain to improve the overall air quality in the region.
The Western United States currently has three nuclear power plants in operation. By siting this advanced reactor in Wyoming, TerraPower is also expanding access to communities in the state and the Mountain West that have not had the opportunity to benefit from clean and reliable nuclear power.
Along with Natrium, another advanced reactor is expected to operate in the Northwest region. NuScale plans to operate its first advanced small modular light water reactor system at Idaho National Laboratory—making this region the new hub of nuclear innovation.
TerraPower is currently working on a construction permit application for submittal to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The team will also further develop its plant design and initiate long-lead procurements.
The company hopes to begin early construction activities by 2024.