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Bill Gates-backed TerraPower tabs Wyoming site for $4B 'next wave' nuclear plant


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Bill Gates-backed TerraPower tabs Wyoming site for $4B 'next wave' nuclear plant

  • Author Garrett Hering
  • Theme Energy

Backed by the U.S. federal government, as well as billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, upstart TerraPower LLC plans to build a roughly $4 billion next-generation nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyo.

Selection of the site near utility PacifiCorp's retiring Naughton Power Plant was announced Nov. 16, marking the latest milestone in a high-profile effort to launch a flexible new asset to unlock a deeper decarbonization of the U.S. power mix.

"This will be a commercial asset," TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque said during a call with reporters. "Yes, it's the first, but it will be a commercial asset that will provide at least 60 years of power to the people of Wyoming and surrounding regions."

Founded by Gates and other investors in 2006, TerraPower is partnering with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to begin building the plant by 2024, pending regulatory approvals. The 345-MW sodium-cooled fast reactor is paired with a molten-salt energy storage system designed to boost the facility's output to 500 MW for more than 5 hours, equal to the energy needed to power around 400,000 homes, according to TerraPower.

"This is a really important need of utilities," Levesque said of the project's energy storage capabilities.

PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Energy, intends to purchase the facility upon its planned completion in 2028 as part of a sweeping transition toward renewable energy and other emission-free sources of power.

Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, said during the call that the project is "the perfect location for grid support." The plant will take advantage of existing transmission capacity to be freed up once the utility retires its Naughton coal plant. It is also located between intermittent wind resources to the east and population centers to the west, Hoogeveen added.

'The first plant always costs more'

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm underlined the Biden administration's commitment to the project and more than $1.5 billion in Department of Energy funding "heading to Wyoming."

"The energy communities that have powered us for generations have real opportunities to power our clean energy future through projects just like this one, that provide good-paying jobs and usher in the next wave of nuclear technologies," Granholm said in a Nov. 16 statement.

Some 2,000 workers would be required during the project's peak construction period. Once operational, approximately 250 people would be needed to operate and secure the plant.

TerraPower is looking to the federal government for nearly $2 billion in grants, accounting for half of the estimated project cost, with private investors picking up the balance, Levesque said.

"One important thing to realize is the first plant always costs more," the CEO said. "There's a first-time design and there's a very comprehensive licensing process that frankly, is expensive. ... But once you come through that first time design process, it's done."