In August 2020, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates presented his detailed take on how to “address climate change”. One solution is a small yet advanced nuclear power station that will have the ability to store electricity to supplement grids increasingly supplied by the intermittent sources like solar and wind energy.
Gates’s company TerraPower of Bellevue, Washington , is collaborating with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in Wilmington, North Carolina, to build the Natrium, a 345MWe cost-competitive sodium fast reactor (SFR) combined with a molten salt energy storage system. Sodium’s chemical element symbol is Na (from Latin “natrium”).
Building on the technology used in solar thermal generation, Natrium energy storage and flexible power production will offer abundant clean energy in time to help meet climate goals. SFRs have the potential to become an attractive energy source for countries interested in managing their nuclear supply and nuclear waste.
The Natrium technology’s novel architecture simplifies previous reactor types. Non-nuclear mechanical, electrical and other equipment will be housed in separate structures, reducing complexity and cost. The design is intended to permit significant cost savings by allowing major portions of the plant to be built to industrial standards. Improvements use fewer equipment interfaces and reduce the amount of nuclear-grade concrete by 80% compared to large reactors.
Natrium reactors are designed to provide firm, flexible power that seamlessly integrates into power grids with high penetrations of renewables. For instance, 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 capitalize on peaking opportunities driven by renewable energy fluctuations.
According to TerraPower, Natrium technology will be available in the late 2020s, making it one of the first commercial advanced nuclear technologies.”
The development of the Natrium system demonstrates the benefits of modern virtual design and construction tools and has attracted the attention of numerous utilities through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Energy Northwest and Duke Energy have expressed their support for the commercialization effort, which will provide energy and energy storage to the electrical grid.
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