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Microsoft’s Gates breaks ground on novel nuclear power plant in Wyoming

Nearly three years after TerraPower announced it would build its inaugural Natrium nuclear plant in Wyoming, the company’s founder — Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates — was on hand to celebrate the first major construction milestone for the project.

Approximately 300 local and state officials, as well as business partners attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

“This reactor exists inside a virtual model, and it’s been working really well inside the computer,” Gates said light-heartedly, eliciting some laughter. “It’s a little bit harder to make it work out there. But that’s what we’re starting on today. This is a big step towards safe, abundant, zero-carbon energy.”

Technically, Gates and others marked the groundbreaking of a liquid sodium testing facility — a critical component of TerraPower’s Natrium nuclear power plant slated to begin operating here in 2030. The event marked what developers, which includes the U.S. Department of Energy, say is the “first advanced nuclear project in the Western Hemisphere to move from design to construction.”

This rendering represents the Natrium nuclear power plant that TerraPower plans to build just outside of Kemmerer. (TerraPower)

Gates-backed TerraPower touts the Natrium design as part of the industry’s “next generation” strategy to deploy nuclear power throughout the nation and across the globe — a low-carbon alternative for stable electrical generation and a means to address planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions while meeting growing demand for electricity, according to the company.

Rather than the industry’s existing standard of massive nuclear power plants that consume a lot of water, Natrium is much smaller and will use liquid sodium to cool the reactor, which is designed to generate a consistent 345 megawatts of power — enough energy to power about 250,000 homes — with a capability of ramping up to 500 megawatts for short periods, according to the Bellevue, Washington-based TerraPower.

The $4 billion construction project is also considered an economic lifeline for southwest Wyoming, particularly the adjacent towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville, a region impacted by fossil fuels’ decline. The company selected the location in 2021 in part because it can tap into existing power-grid infrastructure and local labor force currently serving the nearby Naughton power plant, which is scheduled for permanent closure in 2036. Until the Natrium project came along, locals considered the pending Naughton closure — and potentially the Kemmerer coal mine that serves it — an insurmountable blow to jobs and the local economy.

“I believe this project will keep Kemmerer prosperous for decades to come,” Gates said. “That’s because we’re not just going to build the one  plant. We’re going to build a lot of these things.”

Electrical demand is projected to increase across the globe — including to support data centers and artificial intelligence, Gates said. And nations are desperate for reliable carbon-free energy.

“We’re going to support electrification. We support keeping the world’s best data centers here in the country, and so we do need a lot more energy. And you’re the pioneers that are going to make that happen.”

Gov. Mark Gordon (in the cowboy hat) shakes hands with TerraPower founder Bill Gates on June 10, 2024 outside Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Gov. Mark Gordon told the crowd he never doubted that TerraPower was sincere about making good on its efforts to launch the next generation of nuclear energy in Wyoming. But he warned that many companies come to Wyoming with big promises and not enough to back them up.

Source: WyoFile