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Will small be a big deal for the future of nuclear technology? A new project backed by billionaire friends Bill Gates and Warren Buffett aims to find out. Gates’ Terrapower and Buffett’s Pacificorp announced that a retiring Wyoming coal-fired power plant would be the site of their Natrium reactor demonstration project. 

While the specific location hasn’t been determined yet, it will be at one of Rocky Mountain Power’s four plants scheduled for retirement. The hope is that workers from the retiring coal plant can transfer their skills to the new nuclear plant, negating some of the economic impacts of the closure. The project is supported by both the Biden Administration and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, making it a rare example of bipartisanship. 

“I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project, as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide,” said Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.

The Natrium nuclear project could be a game-changer for the future of nuclear energy. It will be smaller and more efficient than traditional nuclear reactors and is designed to plug right into the existing grid structure to replace the retiring coal plant. The sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten core will feature a salt-based energy storage system. The technology will work seamlessly with renewables, eventually leading to a quicker, more cost-efficient decarbonization of electricity generation. The project will take around seven years to build.  

“As coal plants retire, this is a great option,” says Travis Deti, executive director for the Wyoming Mining Association. “It’s also a kick-start to revitalize our nuclear industry. If we’re going the road of zero emissions, nuclear is the way to go. It’s proven technology, and we’re going to work with TerraPower to get this demonstration plant up.”

Choosing Wyoming to demonstrate this project underscores the state’s reputation as one of the energy capitals of the U.S. The state is already at the forefront of carbon capture, utilization, and storage research. The Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC) is one of very few facilities in the world that allows researchers to test CCUS technologies using actual coal-based flue gas at an operating power plant.

Energy Fairness has been highly supportive of new nuclear projects, both big and small, over the years. The low-carbon, always-on benefits of nuclear energy make it a smart choice for meeting carbon reduction goals while ensuring that electricity supplies remain reliable. We’re excited to see new atomic technologies come to the table and keep the U.S. at the forefront of this critical energy resource.