Bill Gates teams up with Warren Buffett to build a $1 billion next-generation nuclear reactor in Wyoming
Back in February, we wrote about Bill Gates after the Microsoft co-founder and Amazon Jeff Bezos invested in nuclear fusion startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS). CFS is an MIT spinoff research company that focuses on bringing fusion energy technology to the market.
Unlike nuclear fission which involves splitting heavier atoms to create lighter atoms and also produce radioactive waste and nuclear bombs, nuclear fusion produces no environmentally harmful gases, no nuclear waste, it can’t be made into a weapon, and it will never cause a power plant meltdown.
Now, Gates is now doubling down with investment in nuclear reactors. Unlike his previous investments, Gates is partnering with his friend, Warren Buffet, to build a $1 billion next-generation nuclear reactor in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon said on Wednesday.
As part of the partnership, Gates’ company TerraPower and Buffett’s power company, PacifiCorp, selected Wyoming for their first reactor project, called Natrium, at the site of an old coal plant. According to the press release, the nuclear reactor would be able to produce 500 megawatts of power during peak demand, enough energy to power about 400,000 homes.
Terrapower was founded in 2008 by Bill Gates and a group of like-minded visionaries to develop a sustainable and economic nuclear energy system while greatly reducing proliferation risks and creating new options for converting low-level waste into vast energy resources. TerraPower is investigating a class of nuclear fast reactors called the traveling wave reactor (TWR).
“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 a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals.”
“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 Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp. “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.”
The location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. The demonstration project will be a fully functioning power plant and is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology.
“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 Wyoming Gov. Mark 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.”
The project features a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MW of power for more than five and a half hours when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes.
In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. To date, Congress has appropriated $160 million for the ARDP and DOE has committed additional funding in the coming years, subject to appropriations.