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Bill Gates-backed nuclear power company breaks ground on first facility in Wyoming

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TerraPower, a nuclear company backed by Bill Gates, recently broke ground on a commercial power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The company’s Natrium reactor aims to be the first sodium-cooled power-generating reactor in the U.S. Microsoft co-founder Gates, along with TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, and PacifiCorp CEO Cindy Crane, attended the groundbreaking event. Gates called the construction start a significant milestone for the local economy, American energy independence, and the fight against climate change.

The small modular nuclear reactor being constructed by TerraPower in Wyoming is a design that is expected to be cheaper and faster to build than traditional reactors. The company, founded in 2006, is building on technology from an experimental breeder reactor in Idaho that operated for almost 30 years. The goal is to begin power production at the Wyoming site by 2030, making it the only coal-to-nuclear project in development globally. The retiring coal power plant being replaced is owned by PacifiCorp.

The construction of the non-nuclear components of the power plant project has already begun, while the company awaits permit approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the reactor and nuclear components. Last month, TerraPower became the first company to have a permit accepted for review by the NRC to build a commercial advanced reactor. One concern for the project’s timeline is the availability of uranium fuel, as Russia was the sole source for this type of reactor until the Ukraine conflict. To address this issue, TerraPower has partnered with Framatome, a French nuclear power company, for the design and development of a pilot line to aid in fuel production.

With offices and research spaces in Bellevue and Everett, Washington, TerraPower has raised about $1 billion, including investments from Gates and South Korean companies. The U.S. Department of Energy has also awarded the company approximately $2 billion. TerraPower is working on securing the necessary uranium fuel for the reactor, with a facility in Washington state and another in Ohio manufacturing small amounts of the fuel. The company’s Chief Financial Officer Marcia Burkey previously estimated the cost of the Kemmerer project at $4 billion.

Overall, TerraPower’s groundbreaking in Wyoming marks a significant step towards the development of a cutting-edge nuclear power plant that could transform the energy landscape in the U.S. The company’s innovative approach to nuclear technology, combined with strong financial backing and government support, positions TerraPower as a key player in the clean energy industry. With construction underway, the project is on track to potentially revolutionize the way power is generated while reducing carbon emissions and advancing sustainable energy solutions for the future.

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