GILLETTE, Wyo. — TerraPower’s Natrium reactor demonstration plant in Kemmerer will be delayed, but it’s still coming, President and CEO Chris Levesque said.
The timeline established for completing the reactor through the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program assumed the use of nuclear fuel from high-assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, from Russia, since the United States isn’t producing its own on a commercial level, he said in a Dec. 13 memo.
“However, in February 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower, as well as for others in our industry,” he said.
Since then, TerraPower, the Department of Energy and stakeholders have searched for other HALEU sources. TerraPower is asking Congress for $2.1 billion to support HALEU. However, there won’t be enough HALEU available to meet the proposed 2028 in-service date for the Natrium demonstration plant.
TerraPower is moving ahead on what it can control: plant construction, licensing applications, and engineering and design work, he said. The company will be able to update its schedule in 2023 once it knows the results of the Fuel Availability Program’s request for proposals, the availability of DOE material for downblending into HALEU, and other Congressional actions. The company currently expects at least a two-year delay before the reactor can become operational, but work will still begin in spring 2023 on the large sodium facility, he said.
TerraPower will use the more than $830 million it raised this year, and Congress has also appropriated over $1.6 billion, for the Natrium project. That funding will help ensure the plant’s completed, he said.
TerraPower and PacifiCorp will still jointly study whether they can add more commercial Natrium reactors by 2035. Levesque believes the federal programs to catalyze HALEU production will be operational in a timeframe that works for plants.
“The challenges of climate change, a just energy transition, and the need for carbon-free, flexible dispatchable power continue to warrant our full attention,” he said. “TerraPower will continue to work aggressively to ensure Natrium reactors will be part of the suite of solutions to achieve these goals.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said on Twitter on Dec. 13 that the delay TerraPower is experiencing demonstrates it’s critical the U.S. has domestic sources of uranium.
“It makes no sense to depend on Russia anymore,” he said. “10 months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Pres. Biden still doesn’t have a plan to secure domestic uranium.”
However, he said he’s heartened by TerraPower’s commitment to their investment in Wyoming and plans to continue as scheduled with constructing the Natrium plant.
“In addition to hosting the Natrium demonstration plant, Wyoming is the major uranium producer in the United States and has taken necessary steps to establish agreement status with the NRC to ensure Wyoming does not get in the way of this project happening,” he said.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said in a news release Dec. 13 that the DOE needs to hasten the pace of supporting American-made nuclear fuel, and he sent a letter Dec. 13 to Secretary of Energy Granholm to that effect. He asked her to reply by Dec. 30 to 17 questions regarding the department’s progress on supporting HALEU.
Barrasso also led a bipartisan group of 14 senators who sent a letter Dec. 8 to U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin, D-WV, requesting an oversight hearing early next year to ensure that DOE is working aggressively to make HALEU available for the U.S.’s first class of advanced reactors.
In April, he introduced the Fueling Our Nuclear Future Act of 2022 to ensure a domestic supply of HALEU for advanced nuclear reactors. The bill directs the department to prioritize establishing a domestic HALEU enrichment capability and make HALEU available from its inventories to ensure advanced reactors have the fuel they need until U.S. commercial enrichment is available.