US nuclear innovation company TerraPower and regulated utility PacifiCorp are to undertake a joint study to evaluate the feasibility of deploying up to five additional Natrium reactor and integrated energy storage systems in the PacifiCorp service territory by 2035.

PacifiCorp and TerraPower announced last year their plans to bring a Natrium demonstration plant to Kemmerer, Wyoming, where a PacifiCorp coal-fuelled power plant is approaching retirement. “This joint study is a significant step toward building the energy grid of the future for PacifiCorp’s customers and a tangible example of the promise advanced nuclear brings to utilities serious about leading the nation’s energy transition,” said TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque. “We have been impressed and humbled by our work with the Kemmerer community and PacifiCorp. We look forward to evaluating new potential sites for Natrium plants that have the same energy expertise and capabilities as our demonstration site.”

Gary Hoogeveen, President and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, noted: “This is just a first step, as advanced nuclear power needs to be evaluated through our resource planning processes as well as receive regulatory approval. But it’s an exciting opportunity that advances us down the path to a net zero energy future.”

By working together on the Natrium demonstration plant and jointly studying the feasibility of adding up to five additional commercial units by 2035, TerraPower and PacifiCorp said they seek to identify opportunities to reduce cost for PacifiCorp’s customers and more broadly deploy advanced Natrium reactors. The joint study will evaluate, among other things, the potential for advanced reactors to be located near current fossil-fuelled generation sites, enabling PacifiCorp to repurpose existing generation and transmission assets for the benefit of its customers. The location of future Natrium plants will be thoroughly explored through this study process, and both companies will engage with local communities before any final sites are selected.

TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy are developing the Natrium technology, which features a sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system. The system features a 345MWe reactor and can be optimised for specific markets. Its innovative thermal storage has the potential to boost the system’s output to 500MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed. This allows for a nuclear design that follows daily electric load changes and helps customers capitalise on peaking opportunities driven by renewable energy fluctuations. As more renewables are integrated into the grid, the demand for gigawatt-hour-scale energy storage will continue to increase.

Currently, however, the USA has no expertise in fast reactor technology and no facilities to support its development. The US Department of Energy (DOE) in July issued a record of decision to build a sodium-cooled fast test reactor at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). If appropriated by Congress, the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) would be the first fast reactor to operate in the USA in nearly three decades.

Meanwhile, on 21 October, Global Nuclear Fuel–Americas (GNF-A), a GE-led joint venture, and TerraPower announced an agreement to build a Natrium Fuel Facility at the site of GNF-A’s existing plant site near Wilmington. The Natrium Fuel Facility will be jointly funded by TerraPower and DOE through the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which aims to speed the demonstration of advanced reactors through cost-shared partnerships with US industry. The facility represents an investment of more than $200 million.

Terrapower said the Natrium Fuel Facility and other commercial nuclear power initiatives are projected to grow the GNF-A and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) workforce by approximately 500 new employees over five years. Many of these new employees will support the Natrium reactor technology that is being jointly developed by GEH and TerraPower as well as other commercial nuclear power initiatives.

Construction on the Natrium Fuel Facility is anticipated to begin in 2023. “The Natrium Fuel Facility will help establish the fuel supply chain that will be required for the US to deploy advanced reactors domestically and globally,” said Tammy Orr, senior vice president, fuel products, GNF-A. “This is a significant investment in our operation, and we’re excited to build on our more than 50-year legacy as a fuel manufacturer in support of carbon-free energy generation.”

The Natrium Fuel Facility would utilise high-assay, low-enriched uranium (Haleu). The Energy Act of 2020 authorised DOE to support availability of Haleu for domestic commercial use.

Image: Natrium system (courtesy of TerraPower)

Date: Thursday, 03 November 2022
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