Small but Mighty – The Power of Nuclear

Bill Gates’ Natrium takes the US by Storm

By Jordan Zele & Robert Levinson

8th May 2030

Bill Gates’ natrium nuclear reactor is taking the U.S. by storm

After the successful launch of his nuclear plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming, Bill Gates & his energy company TerraPower, private energy industries and state utilities were quick to place their bids to be the next site for Natrium small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). The state of Indiana is the most recent to opt in for the fast, low-cost path to providing advanced clean energy.  

Previously a coal predominant state, natural gas overtook energy supply back in 2027. Renewables such as solar and wind are also growing but still trying to find their footing within the state. Despite efforts to gain nuclear energy production, the state has been unable to provide it (Hoosiers does use nuclear energy that is produced in neighboring state Michigan). In partnering with TerraPower, Indiana hopes to bring small modular nuclear reactors at a faster rate as state regulators have struggled to bring nuclear energy to their utilities.  Nuclear can replace retiring coal and natural gas plants as well as supplement the intermittency of renewables.

Indiana passed the Senate Bill 271 in 2023 which empowered the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission which oversees utilities in the state to, to basically approve the construction, purchase or lease of small modular nuclear reactors for use in Indiana as long as the company planned to apply for federal nuclear permits. The bill also made electric utilities that take on nuclear energy projects eligible for financial clean energy incentives. However, despite the passing of the bill, state utilities proved less than excited to take on nuclear. Increasing success of SMRs technology, pressure from government to increase production for clean energy and TerraPower’s financing initiatives have quickly changed this.

Indiana state senator Rodric Bray is excited for adoption of SMRs “We’ve felt increasingly pressurized to find clean energy sources for the state – nuclear energy is clean energy. Natrium has shown to be safe, reliable and have a small footprint. We’ve seen how it has become increasingly difficult to acquire the materials needed for wind, solar and hydrogen energy production, only cementing for us even more so the need to go nuclear. Further, we’re excited for the employment opportunities it presents and the little to no effect felt by the consumer.”

Bill Gates launching increasingly successful SMRs

SMRs still have many of the same requirements as conventional reactors – any nuclear development requires secure infrastructure connections for transport of radioactive material. Nuclear power plants also require a supply of water, often from nearby rivers and seas. This water cools the reactor, turning into steam to drive the turbines. This being said, the prefabricated nature of SMRs modules allows manufacturers to adhere to the standards while maintaining the efficiency and speed of a production line, lowering the variability and associated costs of nuclear construction. The technology makes use of existing nuclear infrastructure at the site, minimizing costs and construction time. On a greenfield site without these advantages, the benefits of SMRs will compete with the fact that there is no modular approach to nuclear infrastructure. The original plant does not display the best of nuclear construction, with costs coming in at more than four times the original budget. Modular construction promises to keep costs down, though cost estimates for this reactor remain undisclosed. Developers will aim for an installation cost of $2,250/kW, after initial cost-efficiency savings, implying a total cost of $675m. This gives the design a capacity cost approximately double that of modern solar, but with a more manageable supply of power.

Construction of the new SMR will take two to three years, a fraction of the time to build a full, usual size nuclear plant.  This design also has an operational lifespan of 60 years, GE HNE says that the SMR has approximately “10% the size and complexity” of conventional nuclear, also reducing project risk.

After the success of Wyoming, other sights that had already approved new nuclear development were quick to opt in with TerraPower for SMR technology. Oklo energy start-up have come to an agreement for their nuclear plant in Idaho. Tennessee Valley Authority have also signed with TerraPower to bring SMR tech to their plant in Somerville County, Texas. Duke Energy have also signed an agreement for their William State Lee III Nuclear Generating Station in Cherokee County, South Carolina.

Nuclear energy has proven to be essential in decarbonising America’s electricity (power) generation while renewables such as wind and solar increase their fare share of the energy mix. Gates believes the success of the Natrium will only fuel its growth. “Nuclear is essential if America and the world want to reach net-zero by 2050. Our Natrium SMR will only help ensure we as a nation can achieve this goal. I look forward to implementing the technology across the country and proving it is a safe, reliable and clean source of energy.”

member

Robert Levinson

ELA Decarbonization Specialist

member

Jordan Zele

ELA Nuclear Scientist

Is Nuclear the Future?

Understanding TerraPower & SMRs

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