Japan to assist in funding Natrium plant

An artists rendering of a Natrium power plantfromTerraPower. COURTESY PHOTO/TerraPower

LYMAN — Plans on the Natrium nuclear plant near Kemmerer is back in the headlines due to some additional funding that is being lined up.

TerraPower, an advanced nuclear power venture founded by Bill Gates, which is set to open its Natrium plant in 2028 will also receive foreign funding. Initially, Gates said the U.S. government will provide funding to cover half of the $4 billion project.

The project will get about $1.9 billion from the federal government including $1.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed recently. The bill included about $2.5 billion for advanced nuclear reactors.

According to Japan’s daily “Yomiuri” last Saturday, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (7011.T) are set to cooperate with the United States and Bill Gates' venture company to build this high-tech nuclear reactor.

The parties are slated to sign an agreement as early as January for JAEA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to provide technical support and data from Japan's own advanced reactors, the report said citing multiple unidentified sources.

Terrapower had initially explored the prospect of building an experimental nuclear plant with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp, until it was forced to seek new partners after the administration of Donald Trump restricted nuclear deals with China.

The United States has been competing with China and Russia which also hope to build and export advanced reactors.

Japan, on the other hand, has a bitter history of decommissioning its Monju prototype advanced reactor in 2016, a project which cost $8.5 billion but provided little results and years of controversy, according to officials. The Monju facility saw accidents, regulatory breaches and cover-ups since its conception, and was closed following public distrust of nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Originally, funding according to information provided by Gates and TerraPower was half of the $4 billion would be provided by the state of Wyoming and the other half by Terra Power.

Bill Gates said earlier Kemmerer had been selected as the site for TerraPower's Natrium demonstration plant. The area’s Naughton coal plant is due to shut in 2025. Pending permits, the 345 megawatt nuclear plant will open in 2028, which is the timeline mandated by Congress.

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