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In the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration emphasized the need for decarbonization and set a goal for the country to achieve a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. This complements the president’s previously announced goal to reach net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050.

Advanced technologies—including the Natrium reactor and integrated energy storage system, jointly developed by TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, and TerraPower’s Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) design—will help the United States achieve its clean energy goals.

What makes TerraPower’s advanced nuclear technologies different?

The Natrium technology combines a 345 MWe sodium fast reactor with a gigawatt-hour-scale, molten salt energy storage system. This innovative combination provides clean, carbon-free and stable electricity for power grids with a growing mix of renewables.

The Natrium reactor maintains a constant output of thermal power during its entire operating period. The heat from the reactor can be used to generate electricity immediately or be contained in thermal storage reserves and deployed upon demand to the grid when electricity demand peaks or when wind and solar are unavailable. The addition of thermal storage means the system can boost its output to 500 MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed. This allows the Natrium technology to provide clean, dispatchable power at a scale that can truly advance decarbonization efforts.

In addition to the Natrium reactor, TerraPower’s MCFR technology, a type of molten salt reactor, can help decarbonize energy-intensive industries. Industrial processes, like producing hydrogen, petrochemicals and steel, require high-temperature heat. These processes typically rely on fossil fuels to generate that heat. The MCFR design has a higher operating temperature than conventional reactors, making it an ideal partner to decarbonize high-heat industrial processes.

What’s next for advanced nuclear reactors in the United States?

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) as a critical part of our nation’s clean energy transition. This program will speed the demonstration of advanced reactors through cost-shared partnerships with U.S. industry.

As part of the ARDP, DOE awarded TerraPower funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. The demonstration project will validate the technology’s design, construction and operational features. Once complete, the Natrium demonstration will be a licensed, grid-scale reactor entering commercial service.

In addition, the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE) proposal also received funding through the ARDP’s risk-reduction pathway. Southern Company will lead the project to design, construct and operate MCRE, the world’s first critical fast-spectrum salt reactor relevant to TerraPower’s MCFR technology.  

Nuclear energy is a must-have clean energy solution

Advanced nuclear technologies are key to decarbonizing everything from the electricity grid to manufacturing and other industrial processes. The Natrium technology will be available in the late 2020s, making it one of the first commercial advanced nuclear technologies. Meanwhile, the MCFR design continues to advance and will expand the ability to use nuclear technology to decarbonize sectors in addition to electricity. By demonstrating and deploying innovative advanced nuclear technologies, the United States can show it is committed to achieving its carbon-free goals and our clean energy future.