Wyoming site chosen for Natrium plant

17 November 2021

Kemmerer in Wyoming has been selected as the preferred site for the Natrium nuclear power plant demonstration project, TerraPower has announced. The location is near the coal-fired Naughton power plant, which is due to retire in 2025, and was chosen after an extensive evaluation process and meetings with community members and leaders.

TerraPower's vision of a Natrium plant (Image: Terrapower)

The announcement came the day after President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, earmarking USD2.5 billion for the construction of reactor demonstration projects under the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ADRP). Two teams - one led by TerraPower and one by X-energy - have already been selected by DOE to receive the cost-shared funding to test, licence and build an advanced reactor within the next seven years.

The state of Wyoming currently generates almost 90% of its electricity generation from fossil fuels, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Earlier this year, TerraPower and utility PacifiCorp, together with Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, announced plans to build a Natrium plant at a retiring coal plant in the state. PacifiCorp in September formally included advanced nuclear in its Integrated Resource Plan for the first time.

"People across Wyoming welcomed us into their communities over the past several months, and we are excited to work with PacifiCorp to build the first Natrium plant in Kemmerer," TerraPower CEO and President Chris Levesque said. "Our innovative technology will help ensure the continued production of reliable electricity while also transitioning our energy system and creating new, good-paying jobs in Wyoming," he added.

The Natrium demonstration plant project features a 345 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can temporarily boost the system's output to 500 MWe when needed, enabling the plant to follow daily electric load changes and integrate seamlessly with fluctuating renewable resources.

A variety of factors were considered in the selection of the Naughton site, TerraPower said. These included: community support; the physical characteristics of the site; the ability of the site to obtain a licence from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; access to existing infrastructure; and the needs of the grid. The two coal-fired units that remain in operation at plant are due to retire in 2025: a third has been converted from coal to gas as a "peaker" unit - a plant that is only run at times of high electricity demand, in order to balance the grid.

The siting is subject to finalisation of definitive agreements on the site and applicable permitting, licensing and support, TerraPower said. It anticipates submitting the demonstration plant's construction permit application to the NRC in mid-2023, with the plant expected to be operational within the next seven years, in line with the ARDP target mandated by Congress.

Good for Wyoming

It has been projected that PacifiCorp's plans to reduce its coal fleet by two-thirds by 2030 could lead to the loss of some 1600 jobs in Wyoming over the next decade as well as directly impacting communities around the plants, DOE said.

"By demonstrating the Natrium reactor at the retiring Naughton coal plant, TerraPower can not only take advantage of the existing energy infrastructure that is in place (such as cooling water intakes and electrical distribution), but also the workforce," DOE said. "This project leverages innovations from the concentrated solar power, tunnelling, and combined cycle gas turbine industries. It also intends to utilise the latest advanced construction and manufacturing methods to bring thousands of jobs back to the area."

According to Natrium project estimates, around 2000 workers will be needed for construction at the project's peak, while the operational plant will need some 250 workers for its day-to-day activities, including plant security.

"Just yesterday, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and today DOE is already putting it to work with more than USD1.5 billion heading to Wyoming," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "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."

"On behalf of Kemmerer and surrounding communities, we are pleased and excited to host the Natrium demonstration project. This is great for Kemmerer and great for Wyoming," said the town's mayor, Bill Thek.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News