Wyoming to host nuclear demo project
Natrium nuclear reactor to replace retiring coal-fired plant Metal Tech News – June 9, 2021
Last updated 7/10/2022 at 3:21pm
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Bill Gates' TerraPower, and Warren Buffet-backed PacifiCorp recently announced efforts to advance a Natrium reactor demonstration project in the Cowboy state, bringing a new wave of carbon-free energy to the coal capital of the United States.
"I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project, as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide," said Gordon. "I have always supported an all-of-the-above energy portfolio for our electric utilities. Our state continues to pave the way for the future of energy, and Wyoming should be the place where innovative energy technologies are taken to commercialization."
A recipient of the Department of Energy's Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, TerraPower was awarded $80 million in initial funding last year to demonstrate its Natrium technology, which is designed to use small, modular reactors that can be used individually or combined to create a single large power plant.
Developed as a cost-competitive 345-megawatt electrical (MWe) sodium fast reactor and gigawatt-hour-scale molten salt energy storage, Natrium can purportedly boost output to 500 MWe for more than five and a half hours if needed.
As further megawatt thermal rating (MWt) specifications could not be ascertained, it is difficult to compare to conventional power standards. However, it is evident that it should still significantly reduce environmental impact from a coal plant.
For comparison, a coal-fired power plant rated at 1,000 MWe and 3,000 MWt would require 3,000 megawatts of heat from burning coal. It would need an approximate supply of 100 kilograms of coal every second to sustain that output.
As a result, 2,000 MW of waste heat would then be put out into the atmosphere, or generally a large body of water; therefore, 1,000 MWe for every 3,000 MWt ordinarily lead to an efficiency of 33%, which can be considered relatively standard for older plants.
However, Natrium utilizes a molten salt energy storage, which can retain that heat for prolonged use, giving credence to the 500 MWe output claim, which would be enough energy to power around 400,000 homes in the event of shortages.
While landowners and conservation groups have expressed some concerns in the state, the overall outlook has been positive. The Wyoming Mining Association supports the decision.
"This is an exciting opportunity for Wyoming to open a new chapter in the nuclear power industry. Advanced nuclear generation clearly fits the bill for zero-emission, reliable and dispatchable electricity necessary to power our country into the future," said the Association's Executive Director, Travis Deti. "Wyoming is the nation's leader in the production of domestic uranium. Our producers stand ready, willing and able to safely and responsibly provide the vital fuel for America's next generation of nuclear power."
The location of the new Natrium demonstration plant has yet to be decided among four different sites. Still, it is expected to replace an existing coal-fired plant operated by PacifiCorp.
Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of PacifiCorp division Rocky Mountain Power said the goal is to decide by the end of 2021 which of the utility's four plants will house the nuclear power plant – Jim Bridger near Rock Springs, Naughton in Kemmerer, Dave Johnston in Glenrock or Wyodak near Gillette.
"This project is an exciting economic opportunity for Wyoming. Siting a Natrium advanced reactor at a retiring Wyoming coal plant could ensure that a formerly productive coal generation site continues to produce reliable power for our customers," said Hoogeveen. "We are currently conducting joint due diligence to ensure this opportunity is cost-effective for our customers and a great fit for Wyoming and the communities we serve."
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also spoke remotely during the announcement of the Natrium installation in downtown Cheyenne, bringing optimism for the project under the Biden administration's net-zero emissions goal by 2050.
"We are ready to make investments in advanced nuclear technology so that communities all over the country can enjoy the benefits of safe and reliable and clean power that will leave them with lower energy bills and greater opportunities," Granholm said.
As the US's top producer of uranium, Wyoming is ideal in many ways to start an expanding nuclear sector. Last year, nuclear power produced a fifth of the total electricity generated in the US.
With many nuclear plants approaching the end of their lifespans, it is an opportune time as far as carbon-free energy and the transition to zero-emissions energy technologies are concerned.
"Together with PacifiCorp, we're creating the energy grid of the future where advanced nuclear technologies provide good-paying jobs and clean energy for years to come," said Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower. "The Natrium technology was designed to solve the challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals."