The Natrium reactor and energy system architecture, say the companies, builds on the technology used in solar thermal generation and will offer abundant clean energy in time to help meet climate goals. The Natrium technology's architecture simplifies previous reactor types: non-nuclear mechanical, electrical, and other equipment will be housed in separate structures, reducing complexity and permitting 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.
The Natrium system features a 345 megawatt electrical (MWe) reactor and can be optimized for specific markets. For instance, say the companies, its innovative thermal storage using molten salt has the potential to boost the system's output to 500 MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed, allowing for a nuclear design that follows daily electric load changes and helps customers capitalize on peaking opportunities driven by renewable energy fluctuations.
"As a nuclear innovation company, TerraPower values collaboration with GE Hitachi to make nuclear generation as affordable as possible," says Chris Levesque, TerraPower President and CEO. "Our exceptional technology development capabilities, unmatched financing credibility, and achievable funding strategy mean that the Natrium technology will be available in the late 2020s, making it one of the first commercial advanced nuclear technologies."
TerraPower was founded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and others in 2006. It says it is seeking additional funding from private partners and the U.S. Energy Department, and that the project has the support of PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, along with power utilities Energy Northwest and Duke Energy.
The company says its Natrium plants would first be built in the United States and other developed countries, but could later spread to countries