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Nuclear power company backed by Bill Gates breaks ground in Wyoming on first facility

Nuclear company TerraPower broke ground Monday on its commercial power plant, located near a soon-to-be-retired coal power plant in Kemmerer, Wyo. The company’s Natrium reactor could become the first sodium-cooled, power-generating reactor in the U.S.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is backing the project and spoke at the groundbreaking, as did TerraPower CEO and President Chris Levesque, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordeon and PacifiCorp CEO Cindy Crane.

On his blog, Gates called the start of construction “a huge milestone for the local economy, America’s energy independence, and the fight against climate change.”

TerraPower is erecting what’s known as a small modular nuclear reactor — a design that aims to be cheaper and faster to construct than traditional reactors. The company launched in 2006 and is building on technology used in an experimental breeder reactor in Idaho that operated for nearly 30 years before shutting down.

The goal is to start producing power at the Wyoming site in 2030.

TerraPower notes that theirs is “the only coal-to-nuclear project under development in the world.” The retiring coal power plant is owned by PacifiCorp.

RELATED: ‘Just watch us’: Gates-backed TerraPower is bullish on being the first next-gen nuclear plant in U.S.

TerraPower is starting with the construction of non-nuclear parts of the power plant project as it awaits permit approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the reactor and nuclear components. Last month, TerraPower became the first company to have a permit accepted for review by the NRC to build a commercial advanced reactor.

One of the concerns for the project’s timeline is a lack of uranium fuel for the reactor. Russia was the only source of fuel for the type of reactor that TerraPower is building, but that option was eliminated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last month, TerraPower announced an agreement with Framatome, a French nuclear power company, to design and develop a pilot line that will aid in fuel production. The facility is based in Richland, Wash. In November, a separate company in Ohio started manufacturing small amounts of the uranium fuel.

In Washington state, TerraPower has offices and research space in Bellevue and Everett.

The company has raised about $1 billion, including investments from Gates as well as South Korea-based SK Inc. and SK Innovation, according to PitchBook. It has additionally been awarded roughly $2 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Earlier this year, Levesque declined to provide GeekWire an updated price tag for the Kemmerer project. In September 2022, Chief Financial Officer Marcia Burkey put the figure at $4 billion.





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