Bill Gates, through his company TerraPower, plots to control nuclear energy by opening the Natrium plant in Wyoming in 2030.
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For the past 15 years, Bill Gates has been working on a project to open the most advanced nuclear facility in the world in Kemmerer, Wyoming. According to Gates, nuclear power is critical in the fight against climate change. With that in mind, he believes the world needs to “make a big bet on nuclear” and hopes to open the plant—designed by his company TerraPower, and called the Natrium plant—in 2030. With the company’s proprietary plans and methodologies, there is no doubt that in addition to being one of the largest farmland owners in the United States, Gates intends to profit off of nuclear energy as he pushes its use to combat climate change.
On November 16, 2021, a day after President Biden signed his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal allocating nearly $2.5 billion for its advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), TerraPower officially announced it had chosen Kemmerer as the location for its cutting-edge Natrium plant, which intends to replace the nearby Naughton coal plant, set to shut down in 2025. The ARDP funding from the Department of Energy (DOE), along with previous funding, will cover the DOE’s commitment to TerraPower for the first five years of a seven-year, $2 billion agreement, with TerraPower matching the investment dollar for dollar.
Initially, the opening date for Natrium was crafted along an “appropriately ambitious” timeline of 2028. However, in the TerraPower proposal to meet the DOE’s aggressive timeline through the ARDP, the company assumed the use of highly enriched uranium (HALEU) from Russia—the site of the only company in the world selling the necessary fuel for nuclear plants—for its first core load as the United States works to establish its own HALEU production capabilities, set to begin by the end of 2023. However, the war in Ukraine caused the company in Russia to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower and others in the industry. Thus, with domestic HALEU manufacturing not yet functional, TerraPower faces a minimum two-year delay to bring the Natrium reactor into operation.
As previously noted, after completing construction and initial testing of HALEU Demonstration Cascade, the first new U.S.-owned enrichment plant using U.S. technology to begin production in 70 years is set to become operational by the end of 2023 after completing the remaining support systems and obtaining final approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Called Centrus Energy Corp., the HALEU facility is located in Piketon, Ohio. In 2020, ensuring another stake in nuclear energy production, Gates’ TerraPower teamed up with Centrus Energy to fund the construction of commercial-scale capacity to produce HALEU and fabricate it into metal fuel assemblies. In September 2020, Centrus Energy President and CEO Daniel B. Poneman remarked:
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“By catalyzing commercial-scale HALEU production, the proposed investment would put America in the leadership position when it comes to fueling the advanced reactors of tomorrow. This partnership with TerraPower would enable us to expand beyond demonstration scale and we have more than enough room at the Ohio plant to continue expanding uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication capability as demand grows and the market matures.”
With many focused on nuclear energy as an abundant, clean, and safe and path forward, just as many question its safety. A 2020 Survey by the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council (USNIC) (now removed from the internet) addressed key policy issues facing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as the characteristics of Advance Reactors and the concerns about Advanced Nuclear Developers. When asked, “What keeps you up at night?” developers identified HALEU production capability as a critical priority in restoring U.S. leadership in nuclear technologies.
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