Bill Gates addresses a crowd of local leaders May 5, 2023, in Kemmerer. He is joined by Chris Levesque, Tara Neider and Mark Werner of TerraPower. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

KEMMERER—Despite the engineering, finance and permitting challenges that have dogged the U.S. nuclear power industry for decades, Wyoming can count on the successful launch of the Natrium nuclear power plant here, according to TerraPower officials and the company’s owner, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. The plant is slated to begin operation in 2030.

“I look forward to coming and seeing this plant as it becomes reality,” Gates told a packed room of local and state leaders at the Best Western Plus Fossil Country Inn & Suites on Friday. “We’ll have lots of challenges building this in real life, but we’ve put a lot of innovation in it to keep it simple and to make sure that we don’t run into any surprises as we move along.”

Gates and a team of TerraPower leaders held several meetings with state and local officials to provide an update on the project touted as an economic boon that will help Kemmerer, Diamondville and other regional communities shift to a lower-carbon energy economy.

The $4 billion Natrium demonstration project is part of Gates’ vision for an “advanced” nuclear energy design that can be replicated throughout Wyoming and the world — a vital investment desperately needed to meet the global challenges of climate change and growing demand for electricity, according to Gates.

The Natrium nuclear power facility outside Kemmerer will be co-located with the Naughton coal-fired power plant, pictured May 5, 2023. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“This is a design 12 years in the making,” Gates said. “This is a pioneering move that would be a big part of how we keep electricity reliable and keep the United States at the forefront of providing energy technology.”

Natrium project 

The promise of TerraPower’s Natrium design is its small industrial footprint combined with a liquid-sodium cooled “fast reactor,” according to the company. The Natrium plant will generate 345 megawatts of steady electric generation and includes a power storage component that allows it to “flex” up to 500 megawatts for short periods.

The design requires less water and produces less nuclear fuel waste, according to TerraPower. The company says the reactors are ideal for plugging into existing coal-fired power plant infrastructure — a critical solution for communities reliant on coal plants that are slated for retirement.

That’s why TerraPower chose to site its first Natrium reactor near the Naughton power plant outside Kemmerer. One of three coal-burning units at Naughton has already been converted to natural gas, and PacifiCorp plans to convert the other two units to natural gas in 2026.

Once the Natrium reactor is in operation, PacifiCorp plans to include the plant in its power generation fleet. TerraPower and PacifiCorp are considering adding five more Natrium reactors at existing coal-fired power plants in Wyoming and Utah.

‘This is real’

TerraPower’s selection of Kemmerer to launch its Natrium fleet has created a lot of anticipation for a region of the state that’s suffered from the decline in coal power. Financing and licensing new nuclear reactors is a notoriously difficult feat. Although TerraPower promises to clear those hurdles, the company already has had to push back its planned in-service date by two years due to a fuel supply snag.

Gov. Mark Gordon addresses an audience in Kemmerer May 5, 2023, joined by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, along with Chris Levesque, Tara Neider and Mark Werner of TerraPower. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The Natrium design requires high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel. TerraPower cut ties with the Russian state-owned Tenex — the only facility in the world with the capacity to supply commercial volumes of HALEU — after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Although TerraPower was already working with Congress and the Department of Energy to expand the U.S. commercial HALEU supply chain, the Natrium project may now depend on how quickly the federal government can “downblend” enough weapons-grade uranium, according to the company.

Despite the challenge, TerraPower expects to begin to receive its first HALEU fuel deliveries in 2025. Construction on the non-nuclear portions of the plant will begin in 2024.

“We’re going to start that activity as soon as we get the environmental permits because we really want to show you all that this is real,” TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque said.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. I thought HE Hitachi was going to be the first site for production of the Haleu fuels in Wilmington NC.

    1. I have been following this pretty closely as I was in both the Navy’s and US commercial nuke programs.

      I haven’t seen anything in terms of Delaware HALEU production. But take a look at Centrus in Ohio, which looks well on it’s way to up scaling into commercial amounts of HALEU.

      The commercial nuke I worked for in the 90s actually used some ‘downblended’ weapons grade uranium the Clinton administration had purchased from Yeltsin’s Russian government. That’s a 3-5% enrichment. HALEU is ~20%, so that seems to be a viable approach this article references, but have not found anything that suggests we are doing that.

  2. I’m surprised Gates still supports these efforts, he’s not stupid nor a con artist. His philanthropy is near unmatched by any other. Yet when I look at the cost of this reactor, $4B for 400MW and compare that to solar and wind, $4B for 4000MW, nuclear power doesn’t even come close. Add in major fuel supply issues, security issues, forever waste issues, and a 10+ year time to operation I can’t help but wonder what the heck he’s thinking?

    1. Solar and wind aren’t baseload.

      Gates is no dummy. There are a number of elements factoring into ROI calculations that you may have overlooked. These include a huge list of government incentives and tax breaks, the existing infrastructure from the in situ coal plant, and the existing work force. As anyone who has worked at a commercial nuke will tell you, the majority of the workforce is essentially identical to an oil, NG, or coal fired plant. Gates doesn’t have to build a multimillion dollar switch yard or coordinate with federal and state regulators for high voltage transmission lines or spend millions analyzing, permitting and building a cooling water source.

  3. Bill Gates is the publisher of some of the most bug-ridden and insecure software ever written. And we’re considering allowing him to build an EXPERIMENTAL nuclear fission reactor, based on UNPROVEN technology, cooled by a dangerous substance that cannot be extinguished if it ignites, on the west edge of our state, from where the fallout from an accident would drift eastward to poison all of us? Insane.

  4. Mr Gates claims that the Terra-Power reactor has a “small industrial footprint”. But he goes on to say that the government needs to “down-blend” weapons-grade uranium. What is the industrial footprint of the facility to down-blend the uranium?
    What is the footprint of mining the uranium and how many people have died doing it? In addition, sodium cooling is treated as a given and hardly mentionable factor, with no consideration of the chemistry of sodium, its corrosive power, its flammability in the presence of water vapor, liquid water or ice. Mr. Gates pie in the stratosphere portrayal of the ease with which the Natrium (anything but natural) reactor will come online is obfuscating all the negatives that may be part of this project. Please publish another article that shows both sides of our government and the nuclear industry’s addiction to this very dangerous technology.

    1. A couple of comments. While uranium mining and processing has a ‘footprint’ essentially all of our uranium currently comes from Kazakhstan-which is supplying it for commercial and military nuclear applications worldwide. One intriguing topic for on line research is contrasting the ‘footprint’ associated with fossil fuel exploration, retrieval, refining, processing and delivery from in situ to power plants with the supply chain for uranium. The costs in terms of carbon footprint, toxic release, industrial accidents, transportation spills and releases are several orders of magnitude in terms of environmental harm and loss of life.

      Sodium coolant-required by the physics of the Natrium design-IS an issue I suspect Gates doesn’t actually understand. Your post suggests you believe this is a new/untried technology. It is not. The first liquid metal coolant designs appeared in this country over 70 years ago. The US Navy had a sodium cooled submarine prototype reactor in upstate NY in the 50s and built the USS Seawolf with that reactor-in service for several years without incident. Fermi I in Detroit was a sodium cooled commercial reactor.

      It did turn out that liquid sodium is fiendishly tricky to work with. Natrium’s design has not had any issues to date. But if you ask an engineer like whether he would prefer to live next to Cheyenne’s Dyno Nobel high density ammonium nitrate plant, Cheyenne’s Sinclair refinery, or the Gates/Natrium power plant . . . I will take the liquid sodium circuit 24/7/365.

  5. “Gates told a packed room of local and state leaders”; were these leaders hand picked by Gates? From what I’m hearing around Kemmerer/Diamondville, most locals did not hear of this presentation until after it was over. Sounds like an alternate version of a Joe Ricketts dog and pony show.

    It’s amazing how the billionaires put on the choreographed medicine shows and the Wyorubes line up to buy a couple of bottles.

  6. If he’s so sure of his nuclear energy plant why doesn’t he build one in his own backyard?

  7. No. HELL NO.
    KARMA ought be on all you control freaks minds. Every pain and death you cause returns to you in perfect justice.

  8. I served in the US Navy and I too believe nuclear is the future. People need to educate themselves about nuclear power it is safe. San Diego harbor is full of reactors and most people dont even realize they are there. The US Navy currently has around 200 SMR’s or small modular reactors active in the fleet. So this is not a scary issue. This is 70 years of history that is finaly coming to the forefront of the power grid. Wind and solar are nice, but are by no means “green” as some like us to think. You need lots of fossil fuels to mine and manufacture both, and that requires vast distruction on large tracts of land. Nuclear is proven, safe and compact.



  9. Too bad Gates has yet to invest in the other two legs of the nuclear stool here in Wyoming. Sure, we mine the uranium ore and rudimentarily process it into crude yellowcake for shipment elsewhere. Wyoming leads the nation in uranium ore mining , but the USA produces only a scant 1 percent of refined uranium globally. On the other end of the uranium fuel cycle is the touchy issue of nuclear waste storage. If you are not averse to Faustian bargaining, there is no reason why Wyoming could not profit from being a nuclear waste repository. After all , spent radioactive fuel has to go s-o-m-e-w-h-e-r-e , and the thinly populated desolate sectors of interior Wyoming checks all of Mephistopheles’ boxes .
    Should Wyoming choose to become prosperous beyond its fading fossil fuel dreams, the state could sell its soul to the Nukers by offering cradle to grave atomic services in one closed loop. We mine the ore, refine the fuel, operate one or more reactor powerplants , and store the waste for all eternity in our existential southwest industrial corridor. The trick will be to keep the billions of dollars generated from trickling away to the 21st century robber baron’s hoards without the rest of Wyoming getting its sumptuous due. Each and every Wyoming resident should recieve an annual payment or immense personal tax relief by agreeing to go all in on atomic power. ( Think Alaska during the North Slope oil epoch when it adopted the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1976 , still in existence). If it’s only money that matters , Wyoming is a burgeoning atomic emperium on paper . It wouldn’t be the first time we sold our soul around here . We need assurances that all of Wyoming gets assurances and compensation to balance the risks. I’m for one am tired of seeing my home state continually exploited by robber barons and indifferent corporations whose CEO’s and shareholders can’t point out Wyoming on a map.

    Please note that I personally neither advocate nor deprecate any part of this grand scheme. I’m more of a wind turbine – solar panel- geothermal sort of sustainability bloke. Just saying Wyoming needs to collectively wise up, in its own self interest .

    1. Agree 100%. Follow the money trail, it doesn’t end in Wyoming and Wyoming-ites will pay the price. Tale as old as time. Also, Gates’s ‘philanthropy’ should be examined under a microscope by those who believe he is a saint. You won’t believe what you will find.