“We are, after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth. If working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilize our planet. Surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it.” Renowned naturalist and documentarian Sir David Attenborough spoke these words earlier this year at COP26 as a call to action for the world to cooperate in solving the climate crisis. TerraPower has long sought like-minded partners domestically and abroad to do just that. As a nuclear innovation company, 2021 served as a milestone moment. After years of research and development, the company will soon begin constructing the next generation of nuclear reactors.
In August 2020, TerraPower first introduced the Natrium technology, co-designed with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. It features a cost-competitive sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system. The Natrium technology is a carbon-free, reliable energy solution built to address climate concerns before it’s too late. Based on more than 400 reactor years of experience worldwide and learnings from the solar power industry, the advanced nuclear technology is an important power source for the U.S. energy transition.
When TerraPower announced in June that it would build its first Natrium reactor in Wyoming near a retiring coal plant site, the decision further exemplified the critical role advanced nuclear can play in a clean energy future. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Wyoming produces 14 times more energy than it consumes. It is known for its vast oil, natural gas, and coal reserves. Today it also creates more than 12 percent of its electricity from wind. It is fitting that the next generation of nuclear power will be built in a state with such a rich energy heritage and a skilled workforce to support operations once the plant is operational.
Site Selection Near Retiring Coal Plant
Locating the Natrium demonstration reactor near a retiring coal plant further increases its value proposition. It allows TerraPower’s construction teams to take advantage of existing infrastructure to lower costs and provides coal communities with new, good-paying jobs after fossil assets are shuttered. The company announced its final site selection in November, choosing Kemmerer, Wyoming, as the preferred location for the first facility. U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm noted the importance of the choice for the local economy. “It’s a terrific way to help communities transition,” Granholm said. “There’s a lot of interest in that project from other parts of the country that feel like they might be left behind in the energy transition.”
Working Together We are Powerful
As Attenborough noted, the climate crisis requires us to work together. The Natrium demonstration project is a classic example of this truth. The public-private partnership between TerraPower and DOE, first announced in Oct. 2020, paved the way for DOE to invest in and support the Natrium technology through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). Congress has backed up this ambition with significant funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed in November. This allocation, along with previous funding, will cover DOE’s commitment to the project for the first five years of a seven-year, $2 billion agreement. TerraPower will then match this investment dollar for dollar.
In addition to the DOE partnership, TerraPower this year announced PacifiCorp and its subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power as its first customer for a Natrium reactor. TerraPower also continues to work with GE Hitachi as its co-developer, Bechtel as the engineering, procurement, construction lead and many other commercial, national lab and university partners.
Seven Years to Completion
As the clock runs out on 2021, it reinforces the urgency for focus as TerraPower seeks to meet the aggressive timeline to complete construction and begin operations at the first Natrium plant. The ARDP schedule, mandated by Congress, requires the plant to be complete by 2028. TerraPower is on track to make this schedule work to secure key regulatory approval in the near term with a goal of starting construction in 2024.
In the race to address climate change, time is of the essence, and there is still much work to do. It is more apparent than ever that nuclear energy must continue to play an essential role in achieving the world’s net-zero goals. The time is right for the next generation of nuclear energy. Just as 2021 was pivotal in the TerraPower story, the coming year will represent another significant step in the company’s efforts to move from research, development and design into the concrete future of advanced nuclear power.