Bill Gates Breaks Ground on Revolutionary Nuclear Reactor in Wyoming

Wyoming’s Republican governor is calling this a “first-of-its-kind project.” Full story. 

Clean Energy

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On Monday, June 10th, Bill Gates was present in Kemmerer, Wyoming to break ground on a new sodium-cooled nuclear reactor. The co-founder of Microsoft is also the chairman of TerraPower, the start-up company in charge of the project.

This new nuclear reactor is meant to be smaller, more cost-effective, and “greener” than the older models, as it’s designed to produce electricity without carbon dioxide. 

Many Advantages

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The project is also good news for the future coal plant workers and local businesses who will look after the new workforce needed to get the plant up and running. 

In addition to supplying carbon-free energy, the reactor may also provide industrial heat, possibly reforming high-heat industrial processes. 

Illumination Ahead

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According to TerraPower, Kemmerer will be “the first advanced nuclear reactor project under construction in the Western Hemisphere.” Once done, it will be able to generate enough power to light up 400,000 homes in a state that has over half a million residents. 

America Goes Nuclear 

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Currently, the US has 94 commercial reactors scattered throughout 28 states to help power American homes and businesses. According to the Energy Department, nuclear energy is “one of the most reliable energy sources in America,” and is also referred to as clean energy technology since it doesn’t emit any planet-warming greenhouse gases.  

A New Power

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Feeling positive about his new project, Gates stated: “As I looked at the plans for this new reactor, I saw how rethinking nuclear power could overcome the barriers that had hindered it — and revolutionize how we generate power in the U.S. and around the world.”  

Not So Fast 

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But there are still a few obstacles to face. For one, the reactor won’t be finished before 2030. In addition, its design is yet to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

TerraPower will also have to battle any anticipated issues that pop up with these kinds of projects, including delays and cost overruns.

Not All Bad News

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On the bright side, TerraPower’s founder does have a lot of influence and deep pockets, as Bill Gates is currently the seventh-richest person on this planet. That’s how he could afford to pump over $1 billion into this project – an amount that is sure to rise. 

Cleaner Air?

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Located next to the new reactor’s site is PacifiCorp’s Naughton Power Plant, which will stop burning coal by 2026 and natural gas by 2036. The utility has also stated that it plans to obtain carbon-free power from the new reactor. 

A Race Against Russia 

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Russia is currently leading the race for the development of sodium-cooled reactors. That adds a bit of pressure on TerraPower, who is itching to start building as soon as its permit is approved. 

Gates, however, doesn’t seem too concerned, as he claimed that they were “standing on what will soon be the bedrock of America’s energy future” at the groundbreaking. 

For a Green America 

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“This is a big step toward safe, abundant, zero-carbon energy,” Gates said. But that’s not the only driving factor for him, as he also stated, “and it’s important for the future of this country that projects like this succeed.”

Why Is This Important? 

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What sets this nuclear plant apart from renewable energy resources is the fact that it can provide continuous, baseload power. This is crucial for not only maintaining grid stability, but also meeting the country’s consistent demand for energy. 

Tackling Climate Change 

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When asked about solving climate change, Gates said, “It’s going to take courage, commitment and partnership between the federal government and private industry”. 

He added, “Everything we do runs on electricity,” and that “we need more abundant clean energy, not less.”

Not a New Technology 

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Usually, advanced reactors make use of a coolant other than water, plus operate at higher temperatures and lower pressures. The US didn’t deviate from its habit of building big, conventional water-cooled reactors as commercial power plants, even though this technology has been available for the past few decades. 

It’s About Time 

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According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Wyoming project marks the first time in about 40 years that a company has attempted to build an advanced reactor as a US commercial power plant. 

A Better Build 

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Chris Levesque, the president and chief executive officer of the NRC, has stated that the time has come to move forward to advanced nuclear technology that makes use of the latest computer modeling and physics. This can help design a simpler plant that’s cheaper, safer, and more efficient. 

Good for the Past…

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When asked about the power plant industry, Leveque stated: “The industry’s character hasn’t been to innovate. It’s kind of been to repeat past performance, you know, not to move forward with new technology. And that was good for reliability”.  

… Better for the Future 

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“But the electricity demands we’re seeing in the coming decades, and also to correct the cost issues with today’s nuclear and nuclear energy, we at TerraPower and our founders really felt it’s time to innovate,” Leveque said.  

New Jobs

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Multiple employment opportunities will become available thanks to this project, including the approximately 1,600 skilled construction builders needed to complete the plant within the next five years. 

Thereafter, about 250 people will be needed for day-to-day activities (like security) once the plant is operational. 

Big Costs… for Now 

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The new Kemmerer nuclear reactor is expected to cost $4 billion, with half the budget covered by the U.S. Department of Energy. And although it’s a high figure, Levesque is confident that future plants would cost much less, since they won’t require first-of-its-kind costs like this one, such as designing and licensing the reactor. 

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