TerraPower has selected the site of an existing coal plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming, as the preferred site for advanced reactor demonstration plant. The project will bring a fully functioning Natrium power plant to a retiring coal generation site. (press statement) (See Q&A with TerraPower below).
The Natrium reactor demonstration project is a joint effort of TerraPower and GE-Hitachi technology and has as its technological legacy the GEH PRISM reactor. It is one of two competitively-selected advanced reactor demonstration projects (ARDP) supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
The demonstration plant is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology. The project features a 345 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 MWe of power when needed, which is equivalent to the energy required to power around 400,000 homes. The energy storage capability allows the plant to integrate seamlessly on the grid with renewable resources.
Site Selection Factors
The company selected the Kemmerer location, near the Naughton Power Plant, following an extensive evaluation process and meetings with community members and leaders.
Key site selection factors included water, power grid factors, workforce, other key items. Kemmerer is about 150 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, UT.
The demonstration project team evaluated a variety of factors when selecting the site of the Naughton Power Plant, where the remaining two coal units are scheduled to retire in 2025. Factors included community support, the physical characteristics of the site, the ability of the site to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), access to existing infrastructure, and the needs of the grid.
“On behalf of Kemmerer and surrounding communities, we are pleased and excited to host the Natrium demonstration project. This is great for Kemmerer and great for Wyoming,” said Bill Thek, the mayor of Kemmerer.
Licensing and Construction Timelines
TerraPower anticipates submitting the demonstration plant’s construction permit application to the NRC in mid-2023. The plant is expected to be operational in the next seven years, aligning with the ARDP schedule mandated by Congress.
According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security. The Natrium reactor demonstration project’s preferred siting is subject to the completion of definitive agreements on the site and applicable permitting, licensing and support.
Through the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, DOE worked with Congress to allocate nearly $2.5 billion in new funding for ARDP. This allocation, along with previous funding, will cover DOE’s commitment to TerraPower for the first five years of a seven-year or $2 billion agreement. TerraPower will match this investment dollar for dollar. Federal funding is provided for the demonstration activity under a cost-shared cooperative agreement and the result of the project will be a commercially-owned generating asset.
Q&A With TerraPower
Q: Like many observers of your progress, questions abound whether you can meet the ambitious timeline for operations, e.g., 2028/2029. What assurances do you have from NRC for expedited review of safety design? Do you have confidence in NRC’s ability to review a FOAK design based on per-licensing topical meetings? What is the date that you plan to submit your application to the NRC?
A: TerraPower anticipates submitting the demonstration plant’s construction permit application to the NRC in mid-2023 and submitting the operating license [application] in 2026. CEO Levesque has said the seven year timeline is “aggressive but doable.” Here is a link to the Regulatory Engagement Plan that TerraPower sent to the NRC and made publicly available. Here’s a key section from that document. (ML21159A221.pdf)
“10 CFR Parts 50 and 52 licensing processes to design, site, license, and construct an advanced reactor were evaluated, with consideration for commencing start-up operations within 7 years. After weighing the risks associated with each process, it was determined that use of the 10 CFR 50 process was the optimum regulatory approach for the Natrium reactor. An advantage of using this process is the ability to start construction earlier.
The Preliminary Safety Analysis report (PSAR) submitted with a Construction Permit Application (CPA) requires a different level of detail and will be able to be submitted earlier than a Final Safety Analyses Report (FSAR) submitted with a 10 CFR 52 application.
After approval of the CPA and issuance of the Construction Permit (CP), construction can start. Final design details will be developed and included in the FSAR submitted with the Operating License Application (OLA).”
In terms of whether the project will actually be completed in the seven-year timeframe, Levesque said that with nuclear projects moving ahead in countries like China and Russia, he thinks that the United States government sees the need to help nuclear projects overcome hurdles to coming online.
TerraPower’s CEO noted in its comments at a media event on 11/16/21 that NRC leadership is “leaning forward” on this project and has been empowered by Congress to move quickly to meet our seven year-timeline. He emphasized that their first job is safety. At the same time, he said, they acknowledge they must move faster. He cited Senator Barrasso’s Nuclear Energy and Innovation and Modernization Act which has also directed the NRC to innovate and be more progressive.
Levesque said that there are over 300 engineers currently working on the Natrium demonstration project and that the number will double next year as the Natrium team prepares to apply for a construction permit with the NRC in mid-2023.
Levesque said that once a construction permit is secured, the new plant would need a roughly 2,000-person construction workforce and that developers will work with the local community to accommodate that. The town has a current population of less than 3,000p people and will need help to accommodate the rapid growth caused by arrival of construction crews.
Q: For the Nth production unit, what is the target cost per Kw for a new 345 MWe plant. For example, if cost is $4,000/Kw, a new 345 MWe plant would have an “overnight cost” of $1.38 billion.
A: We believe we can achieve a levelized cost of electricity between $50-$60 MWh. Future plants will be sold at competitive market rates. It’s important to remember that our energy storage ability allows us to compete in premium markets.
Q: Supply chain / production question – does Terrapower have plans to build a factory to produce future Natrium reactors? If so, when would it be built and where?
A: The ARDP funding includes multiple investments in the supply chain. However, TerraPower does not intend to own a factory. We will be investing in and supporting rebuilding manufacturing capacity within the U.S. The volume of planned new Natrium reactors will also encourage new investment in U.S. component manufacturing.
Q: How often will the HALEU fuel have to be changed out in the reactor? In other words, what is the fuel outage cycle for the plant?
A: We will start out with a standard HALEU fuel that will stay in the reactor for an 18-month cycle. This would be comparable to today’s light water fleet. We are in the process of developing more advanced fuel. The Nartrium reactor will have a 60 year commercial life. It follows there will be about 40 fuel outages which will drive demand for HALEU fuel.
Q: Does TerraPower have any other US or global sites it can identify at this time which are candidates for development of future Natrium plants.
A: At this moment, we are solely focused on the demonstration project in Kemmerer, Wyoming. In the future, we plan to sell Natrium plants across the U.S. and around the world. We are confident there is significant demand for the technology.
Rocky Mountain Power Plans
Rocky Mountain Power will be the owner and operator of the Natrium reactor once it is built and commissioned. Gary W. Hoogeveen,CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, when asked during the media event how the Natrium plant would impact electricity rates for ratepayers, said that “the quick answer is that it is the lowest cost option that we have to go forward.”
He noted that PacifiCorp has included the 500 MWe initial Natrium project in its most recent Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that outlines the utility’s planned energy portfolio over the long-term.
With this plan updated every two years, Hoogeveen said that PacifiCorp could potentially add plans for more nuclear in coming years. He said that the utility’s inclusion of the Natrium project in the IRP is a sign that PacifiCorp believes the technology can produce electricity at competitive rates.
He added that the firm has plans for up to 1,000 MWe of wind power for the region which will depend on the Natrium plant for grid stability.
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