Gates-backed nuclear plant delayed without Russian fuel • The Register

The commissioning of Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear power plant will be delayed by at least two years because the only company producing its fuel in sufficient quantities to make it work is based in Russia.

The Gates-backed 345 MWe TerraPower sodium plant, planned for construction at a soon-to-be-decommissioned coal-fired power station in Kemmerer, Wyoming, is yet to be built. But the planned commissioning for 2028 has now been postponed to 2030 at the earliest, a spokesman told the Casper Star-Tribune on Tuesday.

“We had a plan. It was a very aggressive schedule; we were quite confident that we could meet it. But it was all based on our first core load of fuel coming from Russia,” said Jeff Navin, TerraPower’s director of external affairs.

But since Russia is currently a pariah nation subject to sanctions, the chances of getting fuel from Moscow are slim.

The fuel in question is called High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) and is enriched up to 20 percent. The fuel in today’s nuclear power plants is typically enriched much less, usually no more than five percent.

While the TerraPower sodium reactor may not ignite until America can resolve its reliance on Russia for HALEU fuel, Navin told the newspaper construction schedules will remain unchanged and the company will break ground on the reactor next year.

HALEU? Yes, this is DoE

The United States Department of Energy (DoE) describes HALEU as a critical material for the development and deployment of a new generation of nuclear reactors in the United States because it allows smaller reactors to be built. HALEU reactors also have a longer duty cycle and are more efficient than previous technologies.

Sodium Plants Concept

This is what the sodium nuclear power plant should look like… Source: TerraPower

Such reactors, in turn, could serve as a bridge between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, there’s only one company in the US that can make HALEU — American Centrifuge Operating, LLC (ACO) — and despite a $150 million DoE investment last month, the company is years away from large-scale production scale removed.

The DoE’s own forecasts suggest that more than 40 tons of HALEU will be needed by the end of the decade, but ACO is a long way from this goal: the company plans to demonstrate its capabilities by producing 20 kilograms of HALEU in 2023 to deliver.

After that, the DoE said, ACO would produce 900 kilograms per year. At that rate, it would take more than 40 years to produce the amount of fuel the DoE says will be needed this decade, though the department said it is pursuing multiple avenues to produce the HALEU the U.S. nuclear industry needs .

Frankly, for a country that developed the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, this shouldn’t be impossible.

Meanwhile, TerraPower expressed hope that the US government would recycle highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium that was mixed down from nuclear warheads. According to Navin, “the Feds do not have the capacity to disassemble a large quantity of warheads faster than they already are disassembling them” and therefore will not be able to meet the reactor’s energy needs.

What happened to Bill’s original design?

TerraPower was founded by Bill Gates in 2006, and those who’ve followed the toils of the business may know that the company once touted a device called the traveling wave reactor (TWR). Such reactors would ostensibly be capable of producing for decades with minimal maintenance and with fuel consisting primarily of candle-like stacks of depleted uranium ‘burned’ by a cap of enriched uranium.

TerraPower said in 2013 that it believed it would have a demo TWR by 2022. That didn’t happen.

TerraPower’s patented sodium design – to be built in Wyoming – is a fast sodium reactor with an integrated molten salt energy storage system. It is an alternative to TWRs. The sodium design’s storage capacity allows the plant to increase its capacity from 345 MW to 500 MW to meet peak demand.

Aside from these details, TerraPower’s reactor is similar to other small modular reactor designs that forgo water cooling for heavier compounds like salt. TerraPower’s website now describes the TWR as “an important long-term goal of the Natrum program.”

Regardless of the design, the necessary fuel simply doesn’t exist, and Wyoming Senator John Barrasso (R) said the TerraPower delay was a sign that “the United States needs to produce its own supply of nuclear power, rather than relying on our adversaries as we do.” Leaving Russia when it comes to uranium fuel.”

Barrasso introduced legislation last April to secure a US-made HALEU supply, which is currently in committee. The senator claims his legislation was delayed by the DoE, which he says “must stop slowing this process down and start listening to Congress.”

About delaying TerraPower until at least 2030, Barasso said, “The Biden administration must consider and implement every available option to ensure that TerraPower’s sodium reactor runs on American-made fuel ® Gates-backed nuclear plant delayed without Russian fuel • The Register

Rick Schindler

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