Clean energy industries well positioned for growth in West Virginia: Bill Gates

11 January 2023

The Microsoft co-founder and chair of TerraPower voiced his support for nuclear during a visit to a closed-down coal-fired power plant in the state, but said any decisions on future Natrium plants will depend on the performance of a demonstration plant in Wyoming.

Gates (on the left) and Manchin tour the former coal plant near Glasgow, West Virginia (Image: Senator Joe Manchin)

Gates visited West Virginia in his capacity as founder of the Breakthrough Energy organisation, and was hosted by Senator Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Manchin's support helped secure the passage last year of the Biden Administration's Inflation Reduction Act (also known as the IRA). This is one of two wide-ranging legislative packages - the other being the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) - passed under the current US administration which provide support for clean energy initiatives including existing and new nuclear.

West Virginia lifted a ban on nuclear power plant construction in February 2022, and Gates said the state has a "unique opportunity to build on its energy history by leading the clean energy transition".

"Through historic government investments and the technological progress achieved in recent years, clean energy industries in West Virginia are well positioned for rapid growth, with the support of leaders prepared to drive forward this opportunity," he added.

Gates and Manchin followed the visit to the coal plant with a 'fireside chat' discussion (Image: Senator Joe Manchin)

An independently peer-reviewed study published last year by the US Department of Energy found that hundreds of coal power plant sites across the USA could be converted to nuclear plant sites, providing decarbonisation gains as well as economic, employment and environmental benefits to communities.

Before it shut down in 2015, the Kanawha River coal-fired power plant provided some 400 MWe of generation capacity and, at its peak, employed more than 140 people. The tour highlighted existing energy infrastructure that Manchin described as ready for reinvestment and the skilled workers ready to help develop new and advanced energy technologies.

In 2021, TerraPower selected the site of a retiring coal-fired plant at Kemmerer in Wyoming for its 345 MWe demonstration Natrium plant, a sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. It had proposed an in-service date of 2028, but late last year the company warned the plant would face delays because of impacts from the war in Ukraine on the reactor's fuel supply chain.

According to the AP news agency, Gates said during the visit to Kanawha River that TerraPower is looking for sites to expand its nuclear construction efforts "to the east coast". He praised West Virginia's lifting of its prohibition on nuclear construction, but said he would wait to see how the demonstration project in Wyoming performs before announcing any new sites.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News