Bill Gates to Build Small Nuclear Power Plants to Supplement Solar and Wind Power

Gates’ nuclear venture, TerraPower, will be spearheading the Natrium project.

(Image courtesy of TerraPower.)

(Image courtesy of TerraPower.)

Bill Gates is expanding his foray into climate change solutions with a new nuclear energy project. Founded by Gates 14 years ago, TerraPower LLC is aiming to create small advanced nuclear power stations capable of supplementing existing grids that rely on solar and wind power. While critics were quick to express apprehension, particularly following the closure of numerous nuclear plants across the country, the company insists that these plants are designed more to complement than replace renewable energy.

Dubbed Natrium, the plants are slated to be constructed in the United States before the design is introduced to countries that have not yet explored nuclear power. Energy will be stored in molten salt tanks when the grid has ample supply. Molten salt power storage has frequently come under scrutiny due to its tendency to experience thermal leaks. However, TerraPower claims that the Natrium design will have more consistent temperatures than a solar plant to prevent excessive wear and tear.

The Natrium technology uses a sodium fast reactor that runs at constant power. The heat it produces can be used to generate electricity immediately or be contained in thermal storage reserves for hours. The power from the plant could be used at the same time as power from renewables, depending on demand and other factors.

Nuclear energy is currently one of the top sources of emissions-free electricity. If the plants are successful, TerraPower’s CEO Chris Levesque says the company hopes to see more reactors by 2050. These 345-megawatt plants will cost approximately $1 billion each and will use liquid sodium for cooling. Gates had initially hoped to build an experimental nuclear plant near Beijing in partnership with China National Nuclear Corp., but was forced to change plans after President Trump restricted nuclear deals with China.

The Natrium project is part of Gates’ continued efforts to combat climate change. In a statement, Gates said that the innovation process was “extremely difficult” but that the team was able to push through because of their expertise, commercial experience and resources for designing the reactors.

The project will be carried out in collaboration with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. Levesque shared that his company has already begun seeking support from the U.S. Energy Department as well as other private companies. PacifiCorp, which is under Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, has already expressed its support along with Energy Northwest and Duke Energy.

Visit TerraPower’s website for more information.

For more news and stories, check out why small modular reactors could be the future of nuclear energy here.