Can Bill Gates and Warren Buffet be game-changers?
TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company founded by Gates in 2006, and PacifiCorp, a power company owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, have announced that the new Natrium reactor will be built on the site of a former coal plant in Wyoming, USA.
A sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) is a fast neutron reactor cooled by liquid sodium. The SFR allows high power density with low coolant volume fraction and operation at low pressure. It is regarded as a critical carbon-free technology such as wind and solar power plants. The project features a 345 mega watts (MW) SFR with molten salt-based energy storage that can boost the system’s power output to 500 MW.
“We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry,” Bill Gates said to a media conference to launch the project in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “This is our fastest and clearest course to becoming carbon negative. Nuclear power is clearly a part of my all-of-the-above strategy for energy,” Governor of Wyoming, Mark Gordon, said. Wyoming is the top coal-producing state in the US.
TerraPower expected last year that the project would cost about 1 billion dollars. Late last year, the US Energy Department awarded TerraPower 80 million dollars in its initial funding to demonstrate SFR technology, and pledged additional funding in the upcoming years, subject to congressional appropriations.
According to Chris Levesque, president and chief executive of TerraPower, the demonstration plant is expected to be completed in seven years. “We need this kind of clean energy on the grid in the 2030s.” However, some experts expressed concerns that advanced reactors like the SFR could have higher risks than conventional ones. The supply chain for highly enriched nuclear fuel for advanced reactors can be an attractive target for militants in that it can be easily diverted to build nuclear warheads. Conversely, Levesque said that the plants would reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in that they reduce overall nuclear waste.
63rd Edition of Weeklymonday (July 19, 2021)
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