“An inflection point for the energy sector”.
Thus was presented the new nuclear reactor model entitled Natrium. The pilot project was developed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and multi-million dollar investor Warren Buffett.
The initiative is part of Gates’ goal of boosting renewable energy and combating climate change.
Nuclear and renewable concepts can sound antagonistic. However, small advanced reactors, which run on fuels other than traditional ones, are seen by some sectors as a key technology free of greenhouse gas emissions that can complement the electricity supply in situations of low wind and wind energy production. solar.
The Natrium, presented during a ceremony on Wednesday (2), will be developed by the company TerraPower, founded by Gates 15 years ago, and by Warren Buffet’s PacifiCorp.
“The Natrium reactor and its integrated power system redefine what nuclear power can be: competitive and flexible,” says TerraPower on its website.
The pilot project will be built at a decommissioned coal plant in Wyoming, United States, the country’s largest coal-producing state.
How the reactor works
The initiative is a new energy generation and storage concept that combines a fast sodium reactor with a molten salt storage system capable of producing 345 megawatts, explains TerraPower on its website.
The company says the storage system will be able to boost power output to 500 megawatts of electricity for more than five and a half hours when needed, enough to power about 400,000 homes.
“Natrium is a new technology that intends to simplify the types of reactors that already exist”, explains the Forum of the Spanish Nuclear Industry, which is linked to GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, a company that develops the technology together with TerraPower.
The nuclear reactor — traveling waves type (TWR) — will use depleted uranium or natural uranium as fuel. And all non-nuclear equipment will be housed in separate buildings, to reduce installation complexity and cost, the Forum details.
TerraPower president Chris Levesque explained that the pilot plant will take about seven years to build.
“We need this kind of clean energy in the system in the 2030s,” said Levesque.
Natrium is part of the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program.
TerraPower received $80 million (about R$400 million) in an initial funding package from the Department of Energy to demonstrate the project, reported the Business Insider portal.
The department has pledged to provide additional funding for the project in coming years.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon emphasized during the Natrium presentation that this is the “fastest and clearest path” for the state towards a “negative carbon footprint”.
“This small modular reactor will supply power on demand and result in an overall reduction in CO2 emissions. It will also create hundreds of well-paid jobs through the construction and operation of the plant,” he wrote in his Twitter profile.
But projects of this type generate some distrust in some sectors.
The UCS, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group in the United States, has warned that advanced reactors like Natrium could pose a greater risk than conventional ones.
“The technologies (of these reactors) are undoubtedly different from today’s reactors. But it is not at all clear that they are better,” UCS director Edwin Lyman told Reuters.
“In many cases, they are worse in terms of safety, potential for serious accidents and nuclear proliferation,” added Lyman, author of a report titled “Advanced Is Not Always Better” published by the UCS.
In the report, the group warns that fuel for many advanced reactors would have to be enriched at a much higher rate than traditional fuel. That means, scholars say, the fuel supply chain could be an attractive target for terrorists looking to create a rudimentary nuclear area.
“For nuclear power to play a greater role in mitigating climate change, newly built reactors must prove to be safer and cheaper than current ones,” the report details.
Levesque, president of TerraPower, defended that the plants with these reactors reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation because they reduce nuclear waste in a general way.