Nuclear energy company TerraPower has selected Kemmerer, a Wyoming coal town, as its preferred location for its first advanced nuclear reactor plant. This will be TerraPower’s first demonstration reactor, and it will be aimed to be built in the town by 2028. 

The plant’s construction is expected to create 2,000 jobs in the area. Once built, the plant will provide about 250 clean-energy jobs to a region dominated by the coal and gas industry. Kemmerer was selected due to a combination of geological and technical factors, such as seismic and soil conditions and community support. 

TerraPower’s Natrium™ reactor demonstration project is one of two competitively-selected advanced reactor demonstration projects supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Once the technology’s design, construction, and operational features are adequately demonstrated in Wyoming, the Natrium reactor will be available in the late 2020s as one of the world’s first commercial advanced nuclear technologies. 

The Natrium plant viewed from above Photo Credit: TerraPower
The Natrium plant viewed from above Photo Credit: TerraPower

Natrium™ technology utilizes a sodium fast reactor and integrated energy storage system to offer a firm and flexible baseload source of electricity. Since sodium has a higher boiling point and can absorb more heat than water, high pressure doesn’t build up inside the reactor. Also, Natrium plants don’t need an outside energy source to operate their cooling systems, meaning a nuclear incident like Fukushima would be impossible. Additionally, they can store heat in tanks of molten salt, conserving the energy for later use like a battery.

Once built, the plant will provide a baseload of 345 megawatts, with the ability to expand its capacity to 500 megawatts. For reference, a small town can operate on about 1 megawatt, and a midsize city can operate on 1,000 megawatts. 

TerraPower’s announcement of this nuclear reactor plant follows the plethora of headlines that nuclear energy has been making recently, such as the US Air Force selecting an Alaskan airbase to host its first nuclear microreactor power plant. Nuclear power has increasingly been discussed as a major way to reach the global goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

As TerraPower’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Chris Levesque, told us at Tomorrow’s World Today, “As energy demand continues to grow and leaders at all levels of government continue to set ambitious emissions-reduction goals, it is abundantly clear that the world needs more reliable, carbon-free energy. Advanced reactors, like the Natrium technology, are uniquely positioned to meet this need by providing carbon-free energy at a competitive cost with the ability to integrate seamlessly into electric grids with high levels of renewables”.

Read more about nuclear energy HERE, or stream Tomorrow’s World Today’s four-part exploration of nuclear energy on Science Channel GO and Discovery GO!