TerraPower announces two-year delay for startup of Natrium reactor

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, TerraPower announced that the company is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to being able to bring the natrium reactor into operation.

In a statement released from Chris Levesque, President and CEO, he said, “TerraPower remains fully committed to bringing the Natrium demonstration plant to Kemmerer, Wyoming.  While there is much we can’t control as it relates to fuel availability, what we can control is construction of the plant, licensing applications and engineering and design work; and Terra Power is moving full steam ahead on those fronts.”

The delay is related to the lack of availability of the nuclear fuel HALEU (High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium). TerraPower had planned on using the only commercial source of HALEU fuel available, from Russia, for its first core load. Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that source of HALEU fuel is no longer a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower.

TerraPower, the Department of Energy (DOE), Congressional allies, and project stakeholders have aggressively explored potential alternative sources for HALEU and are working with Congress to include $2.1 billion to support HALEU manufacturing options in the U.S.; those options will not be available to meet the earlier proposed 2028 in-service date for the Natrium demonstration plant.

Kemmerer Mayor Bill Thek said, “I’m not overly concerned, it is still going to happen. It will be better for the state and for our country if we mine our own uranium over on South Pass and send it to Utah to be enriched. Then we won’t have to depend on other countries for our energy needs.  TerraPower is still on track for starting construction this next spring.  This delay just gives the government and industry time to solve the problem of getting our own uranium.”

Levesque confirmed that the construction work on the sodium facility, slated to begin in the spring of 2023, will continue as planned, and Terra Power expects minimal disruption to the current projected start-of-construction date.  He added that the company is still planning on a peak workforce of up to 2,000 workers in the mid-2020s and they currently have 800 engineers finalizing plant design and engineering.

In Levesque’s message, he said Terra Power had raised over $830 million in private funding in 2022, and Congress has appropriated over $1.6 billion for the Natrium project.  These funds will be used to ensure that the Natrium demonstration plant is completed.

In a press release issued on Dec. 13, U.S. Senator John Barrasso responded to TerraPower’s announcement of the delay due to the lack of American nuclear fuel.

“TerraPower’s announcement underscores what I’ve been saying for years: America must reestablish itself as the global leader in nuclear energy. Instead of relying on our adversaries like Russia for uranium, the United States must produce its own supply of advanced nuclear fuel,” Barrasso said.

“I’ve introduced legislation to make this a reality and I’ve repeatedly called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to accelerate and expand its efforts. It’s time for DOE to stop slow-walking this process and start listening to Congress. The Biden administration must consider and implement every available option to make sure TerraPower’s Natrium reactor is fueled with American-made fuel,” Barrasso added.

Barrasso send a letter to Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee (ENR) Chairman Joe Manchin requesting an oversight hearing early next year to ensure that DOE is working aggressively to make high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) available for our nation’s first class of advanced reactors.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said, “The delay TerraPower is experiencing demonstrates how critical it is that our nation has domestic sources of uranium; it makes no sense to depend on Russia any more. Ten months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and President Biden still doesn’t have a plan to secure domestic uranium. I am heartened by TerraPower’s commitment to their investment in Wyoming and its plans to continue as scheduled with construction of the Natrium demonstration 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 NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to ensure Wyoming does not get in the way of this project happening.” (Star Valley media online)

Tiffany Erickson, Media Relations for PacifiCorp said “PacifiCorp supports TerraPower’s efforts to pursue a solution to fuel supply chain challenges. A reliable and established fuel supply for plant operations is essential and will help ensure HALEU can be made available as quickly as possible.”

In his statement, Levesque announced that TerraPower and PacifiCorp were jointly studying the feasibility of adding up to five additional commercial Natrium reactors by 2035.  He said he is confident the federal programs to catalyze the production of HALEU will be operational in a timeline that works for those 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,” Levesque said. “TerraPower will continue to work aggressively to ensure Natrium reactors will be part of the suite of solutions to achieve these goals.”

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