How is the innovative nuclear reactor "Natrium" that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett will build in the US?

“A turning point for the energy industry.”

That was the presentation this week by the founder of Microsoft and patrons Bill Gates of his new pilot project with billionaire investor Warren Buffett: a new model of a patented nuclear power plant under the Natrium name.

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It will be built in Wyoming, the United States, the state with the largest coal production in the country, and is part of Gates’ goal to promote renewables and the fight against climate change.

And it is that, although these two concepts may sound antagonistic -nuclear and renewable-, the small advanced reactors that work with different fuels from the traditional ones are seen by certain sectors as a key greenhouse emission-free technology which can supplement the electricity supply in situations of low production from wind and solar.

That is the premise of the TerraPower company, founded by Gates 15 years ago and which, together with Warren Buffet’s energy company PacifiCorp, will carry out this initiative, which they presented at a ceremony on Wednesday.

“The Natrium reactor and its integrated power system redefines what nuclear power can be: competitive and flexible,” emphasizes TerraPower on its website.

The pilot project will be built on the site of a retired coal plant, although the exact site is expected to be announced by the end of the year.

How Natrium works

It is a new concept for the generation and storage of energy, which combines a fast sodium reactor with a molten salt storage system capable of producing 345 megawatts of electricity, explains TerraPower on its website.

The firm also points out that the storage system will be able to increase the power output up to 500 megawatts of electricity for more than 5.5 hours when needed, enough to power around 400,000 homes.

“Natrium is a new technology that aims simplify existing reactor types”Explains the Spanish Nuclear Industry Forum, of which GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy is a partner, the firm that developed this technology together with TerraPower.

The nuclear reactor – of the propagation wave type (travelling wave reactor, TWR for its acronym in English) – will use depleted uranium or natural uranium as fuel, and all non-nuclear equipment will be located in separate buildings, which will reduce the complexity of the installation and its cost, says the Forum.

Company president Chris Levesque explained that it will take around seven years to build the pilot plant.

(Photo: TERRAPOWER).

“We need this kind of clean energy in the system in the 2030s,” he told reporters about Natrium, which is part of the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

TerraPower received $ 80 million in a initial financing package by the Department of Energy to demonstrate the Natrium project, reported the specialized media Business Insider.

Bill Gates bets on nuclear energy to mitigate climate change.  (Photo: Getty Images).

Bill Gates bets on nuclear energy to mitigate climate change. (Photo: Getty Images).

The department has committed to providing additional funding over the next several years.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon stressed during the presentation that this is the “fastest and clearest path” for the state towards a “negative carbon footprint.”

“This small modular reactor will provide energy on demand and will result in a generalized reduction in CO2 emissions. It will also create hundreds of well-paying jobs through the construction and operation of the unit, ”he highlighted on Twitter.

Concerns

However, projects of this type generate some suspicion among some sectors.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit science advocacy group in the US, warned that advanced reactors like Natrium’s could pose a higher risk than conventional ones.

“The technologies [de estos] they are undoubtedly different from that of current reactors, but it is not at all clear that they are better “, said Edwin Lyman, director of UCS, collects Reuters.

“In many cases, they are worse in terms of … safety, the possibility of serious accidents and nuclear proliferation,” added Lyman, author of a report published by UCS titled “Advanced is not always better.”

In that document, the group warns that fuel for many advanced reactors would have to be enriched at a much higher rate than traditional fuel, meaning that the fuel supply chain could be an attractive target for terrorists looking to create a weapon. rudimentary nuclear.

“If nuclear power is to play a major role in mitigating climate change, newly built reactors must prove to be safer and cheaper than current reactors ”, they urged.

Levesque, the president of TerraPower, defended for his part that the plants would reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation because they reduce nuclear waste in a generalized way.

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