In Wyoming, Bill Gates Makes a Bet on Nuclear

His TerraPower breaks ground on a new type of reactor he says can provide clean, cheap energy
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 12, 2024 10:45 AM CDT
Bill Gates Makes a Big Bet on Nuclear in Wyoming
A file photo of the coal-fired Naughton Power Plant in Kemmerer, Wyo., which is closing soon. Bill Gates and his energy company are building a nuclear plant nearby.   (AP Photo/Natalie Behring, File)

When Bill Gates broke ground on a new construction site Monday in Wyoming, he made a big prediction: Everyone present, he said, was "standing on what will soon be the bedrock of America's energy future." A startup company he co-founded, TerraPower, is building what's described as a next-generation nuclear power plant that could be up and running by 2030, reports Quartz. Details:

  • The reactor: The plant is designed to be smaller and far less expensive than today's hulking US nuclear plants, reports the New York Times. One key difference is that its reactor will be cooled by liquid sodium instead of water, which allows it to operate at lower pressure and without the thick shielding needed with light-water reactors, explains the newspaper. A blog post by Gates also explains the technical differences. In emergencies, air vents, rather than "complicated pump systems," could kick in.

  • The details: Plenty of regulatory hurdles remain, but the plant is expected to be operating in six years, reports the AP. The projected cost is $4 billion, half of which will come from the Energy Department. By contrast, Georgia recently finished work on the first two built-from-scratch nuclear reactors in the US in three decades, at a cost of $35 billion. The new plant is going up next to the coal-fired Naughton Power Plant in Kemmerer, which is scheduled to close in 2036.
  • The goal: "If you care about climate, there are many, many locations around the world where nuclear has got to work," Gates tells the Times. "I'm not involved in TerraPower to make more money. I'm involved in TerraPower because we need to build a lot of these reactors." Solar and wind power are great alternative energies, but they're not enough, he adds. The new plant's 345-megawatt reactor is designed to generate enough energy to power 400,000 homes.
  • A risk: These types of reactors (already in use outside the US) require a special uranium fuel—high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, notes Reuters. In an article in Science this week, scientists warned that the fuel could be used for nuclear weapons, and thus must be protected by tight security. As interest in such reactors grows, so, too, will the risk. Currently, Russia is the only commercial supplier of HALEU, but the US is working on changing that.
(More Bill Gates stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.