Bill Gates

Bill Gates kicks off his assault on power companies with his cheap nuclear reactor

Bill Gates already has room to build his new experimental Natrium nuclear plant in collaboration with Warren Buffet . According to Gates, this technology “will revolutionize the electricity market” with much cheaper energy and no CO₂ production.

Gates – through his company TerraPower – and Buffet – with Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp – announced their intentions five months ago and now they have just announced that their experimental plant will be in Kemmerer, a former mining town of only 2,600 inhabitants in the state of Wyoming. With the backing of local and state authorities and the government of President Biden , the company confirms that the plant will begin construction in 2024.

Natrium plant
The new Natrium plant is much smaller than the classic nuclear ones. (TerraPower)

TerraPower has been developing it for 15 years in collaboration with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. Once operational, it will generate 345 megawatts with zero carbon dioxide emissions. The power will be enough to power 250,000 homes daily at a cost per watt that, according to TerraPower, is a fraction of the cost of nuclear power today.

How does it work

The key to that cost reduction is in the plant architecture. Although the reactor uses low-enriched fuel (5-20% uranium), the system does not use the complex water cooling systems used by conventional nuclear plants. These systems require external power sources for emergency pumping systems and are extremely expensive to build and operate.

The Gates and Buffett plant is much simpler and does not rely on external sources or water cooling. The technology is called Natrium and it uses liquid sodium for both cooling and liquid salt energy storage. Liquid sodium has a 785 Kelvin differential between its solid and gaseous states, which allows it to absorb more heat than liquid cooling systems. In fact, liquid sodium only requires air cooling and, moreover, it does not need to be pressurized to perform its function. The plant, TerraPower says, is designed to run at 100% capacity constantly.

The liquid salt battery system is 1 GWh and, according to its creators, it can send 150% of the reactor’s energy to the grid for 5.5 hours when demand peaks.

Safer and cheaper

According to TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque, “Natrium will be the next safety upgrade. It will not depend on external sources of energy, pumps or extra equipment to recover in an emergency ”, the weak point that ended in the Fukushima disaster because the tsunami destroyed the emergency generators. Thanks to the cooling power of sodium, he says, the plant will be able to stop “quickly”.

As ‘The Guardian’ points out , the project also has its detractors . According to Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, liquid sodium also has dangers. “It is a very volatile material that can catch fire if exposed to air or water,” he says, adding that he does not understand how they have convinced Bill Gates to get into this adventure.

Chinese thorium nuclear reactor
The Chinese thorium nuclear reactor under construction.

It remains to be seen if the bet by Gates and Buffet will be as successful as they anticipate, but it is clear that the siege of electricity companies by startups and major powers continues. China is launching its first uranium-free nuclear reactor – which will use thorium salt – while it continues to build traditional nuclear power plants and is strongly committed to nuclear fusion power, something that the United States, Europe and private companies with large companies are also doing. capital funds and people like Peter Thiel or Jeff Bezos behind. There is no sodium salt to cool a race for cheap, clean electricity that is heated by the day.

Rachel Maga
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life's biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.