Agreement will enable exploration of technical design and commercial viability

TerraPower president and chief executive officer Chris Levesque, Enec managing director and chief executive officer Mohamed Ibrahim Al Hammadi, and TerraPower founder and chairman Bill Gates at Cop28.

Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor company TerraPower and the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned nuclear company Enec said on Monday (4 December) they have agreed to study the potential commercialisation and global deployment of TerraPower’s Natrium technology.

The memorandum of understanding comes as the UAE is considering plans to expand its nuclear energy capacity, and a pledge by over 20 nations at the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai to triple nuclear deployment this decade to fight climate change.

“For the UAE, we’re looking for a future for the clean electrons and molecules that will be brought to reality by advanced reactors,” said Enec chief executive officer Mohamed Al Hammadi during the signing ceremony.

“Bringing advanced nuclear technologies to market is critical to meeting global decarbonisation targets,” said TerraPower president and chief executive officer Chris Levesque.

Gates, founder and chairman of TerraPower, also attended the signing ceremony.

TerraPower said the MOU will enable the exploration of the technical design and commercial viability for both electricity generation and non-traditional applications including hydrogen production.

TerraPower’s Natrium reactor and energy storage system is an advanced reactor that the company says could pave the way for the next generation of nuclear energy. It is a 345 MW Generation IV sodium fast reactor that features a molten salt energy storage system that can boost power up to 500 MW for over five hours. This allows the plant to offer 24/7 carbon-free energy, while providing flexible, dispatchable power that can scale up or down based on electricity demand.

The first Natrium plant is being developed in the US near a retiring coal plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and is expected to enter operation within a decade, making it one of the fastest and lowest-cost paths to clean energy.

The Natrium, and other advanced reactors, need advanced fuel and the US government and TerraPower are investing in the production of high assay low enriched uranium (Haleu) requirements. 

The Need For Non-Russian Haleu

Haleu is an essential advanced nuclear fuel required for the development of most next-generation reactor designs. It is needed for 90% of advanced reactor designs selected for funding under the US Department of Energy’s advanced reactor demonstration programme.

Centrus Energy recently began enrichment operations at its American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, as it approaches production of Haleu, breaking an existing Russian monopoly.

Centrus has signed an agreement with TerraPower to significantly expand their collaboration aimed at establishing a Haleu supply for TerraPower’s Natrium.

TerraPower said last year that the Natrium plant proposed Wyoming could be delayed at least two years because of a lack of advanced fuel sources outside Russia.

TerraPower said Russia was the only commercial source of the more highly enriched Haleu the Natrium nuclear power plant requires, but sourcing from there was no longer an option.

The fact that Russia has a monopoly on Haleu has long been a concern for Washington. Only Tenex, which is part of Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom, sells Haleu commercially at the moment.

The UAE is bullish about nuclear. It has a strong civil nuclear programme that has already seen the start of commercial operation of three units at the Barakah nuclear power station, with plans for a fourth and final unit to come online in 2024.

TerraPower’s Natrium is an advanced reactor that could pave the way for the next generation of nuclear energy. Courtesy TerraPower.

Date: Tuesday, 05 December 2023
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