back to article Wyoming powers ahead with Bill Gates-backed sodium-cooled nuclear generation plant

TerraPower – the Bill Gates-founded nuclear company – and Warren Buffett-owned PacifiCorp are hooking up to build a Natrium reactor at a decommissioned coal plant in Wyoming. The exact location of the demonstration plant is not expected to be announced until the end of 2021. And those behind the scheme recognise that the …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge


    Finally we've found the power source for all those microchiped vaccines!

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Aha!

      I was thinking more along the lines of if Gates has an extinct volcano, but a used coal mine will do

    2. Aussie Doc

      Re: Aha!

      All that microchip vaccine stuff is bunkum - Mrs Aussie Doc and I have both been vaccinated and our wifi hasn't improved at all.

      Most disappointed.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Aha!

      Of course all of us with the vaccine already knew this via the hive.

      I kid, there's no mind control chip in the vaccine.

      Anyway, I need to get back to work. I've had this strange urge to build an interstellar ship shaped like a cube.

  2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    And it's goodbye from them

    Ta-ra power?! Really?

    We need a Cilla Black Icon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And it's goodbye from them

      We need a Cilla Black Icon.

      No, we really, really don't.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We need a Cilla Black Icon.

        Eh? But I thought Cilla Black was *already* an icon ... ;-)

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Go for it

    Call it Thorium, call it Natrium, I don't care. Get it up and running and stop those coal-based generators ASAP.

    1. Chris G

      Re: Go for it

      If Gates really does care sbout the planet and environment, he would be putting money into solving the problems that are holding back thorium reactors.

      Meanwhile the UK is actually doing some useful work with a spherical Tokamak using a new type of divertor that should bring large increases in efficiency.

      Maybe.Fusion is still X years away but progress is being made and what was bleeding edge tech a while back is slowly becoming routine.

      1. batfink

        Re: Go for it

        It's a pity I can't give you half an upvote and half a downvote.

        Agreed on the Thorium reactors. The main argument being (publicly) put forward against them is "but it hasn't been done commercially before", which you would think should therefore stop any new technology anywhere ever being deployed.

        However IMO there's a stronger reason this isn't being done: nuclear power needs government backing. And government backing won't come if those reactors don't contribute to the other purpose of nuclear reactors: to provide bomb-making material (no matter how much they plead innocence). Thorium doesn't meet this criterion.

        On the other half of your post: fusion. Meh. I'm expecting my hoverboard about the the same time fusion becomes viable. Yes it's worth pursuing because if it does ever work the payoff will be great, but these days I just turn the page when I read "Fusion! Real Soon Now!".

        1. Fred Goldstein

          Re: Go for it

          Yes, we are getting closer to viable fusion reactors all the time. Why, every 20 years or so we get halfway closer than we were 20 years earlier. Ad infinitum.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Go for it

            Fusion is probably going to take a couple of hundred years to make practical for power generation to the point it's going to displace other power generation methods, It's obvious that creating and maintaining a star in a box and then extracting power from it is not going to be an easy job.

            ITER will probably have cost something approaching a billion a year in R&D and construction over the project lifetime and will have significantly advanced our scientific and technical understanding in the meantime, probably also generating lots of practical uses for the research (eg, radiation resistant materials , superconductors and electromagnets; given we are magnetically hanging the ball of fusion in place) long before we get a commercial scale fusion plant that can run for more than a few minutes at a time.

            I'm probably not going to see a working commercial fusion power plant in my lifetime. However, somebody will do one day if we keep doing the research.

            Meanwhile, Europe is spending >£5 billion a year for subsidies into burning biomass (eg, timber) to bump the amount of "green" energy produced up so that we can say that we aren't burning as much fossil fuels.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Go for it

          One of the main reasons is that Uranium is cheaper at the moment.

          I think Governments will be forced to back Thoriium becuase of the many additional benefits this technology will deliver.

        3. Blank Reg Silver badge

          Re: Go for it

          Not all governments think that way. Here in Canada we don't make nuclear weapons despite having the capability to do so. In fact Candu reactors may be the best at turning weapons grade nuclear material into something less explody.

        4. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Go for it

          However IMO there's a stronger reason this isn't being done: nuclear power needs government backing. And government backing won't come if those reactors don't contribute to the other purpose of nuclear reactors: to provide bomb-making material (no matter how much they plead innocence). Thorium doesn't meet this criterion.

          The issue is more along the lines that government privatised electricity generation to private companies who have been merrily charging the customers and then pocketing the profits instead of putting some money aside for building new plants. Governments are taking the view that if electricity generation is now a private sector thing then it's the responsibility of the companies not of the government. Hence the Hinkley Point development where EDF is spending £23 billion to build a new reactor and things like the essentially R&D reactor at commercial scale mentioned in this article.

          Most banks won't lend £20 billion when words like "it should work" form part of the brief.

          1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

            Re: Go for it

            > Hence the Hinkley Point development where EDF is spending £23 billion to build a new reactor

            The question is, will they still be around to pay to decommission it at the other end of its lifetime?

        5. rg287

          Re: Go for it

          However IMO there's a stronger reason this isn't being done: nuclear power needs government backing. And government backing won't come if those reactors don't contribute to the other purpose of nuclear reactors: to provide bomb-making material (no matter how much they plead innocence). Thorium doesn't meet this criterion.

          Yes and no. Pu-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. U-235 has a half-life of 700years. Most nuclear-armed countries have more than enough fissile material knocking around to keep their weapon stocks active for a good long while. They don't need a constant supply of more (even if they were happy to stockpile extra bomb material, that material comes with transuranics and other waste isotopes which are long-lived and expensive to deal with).

          But of course the military did all the expensive R&D on the "classic" thermal-neutron reactor design. Most private companies have not been interested in funding the R&D to bring Thorium to market - but governments would be unlikely to object if someone did, given that storage and disposal of the waste from conventional reactors tends to get nationalised and is expensive.

          They don't want loads of commercial thermal reactors because the waste is hard to handle - but private Thorium shouldn't cause any regulatory challenges and there's nothing to stop them keeping a few dual-purpose uranium reactors around if needs be. They don't even need to be land-based - nuclear-powered subs and aircraft carriers alone will generate a modicum of "fresh" material to augment the stockpiles.

          1. Xalran

            Re: Go for it

            actually with some type of Thorium reactor you could 'burn' a lot of those long life, expensive and complex to store wastes generated by all the Classic reactors... creating short lived wastes instead ( thus relatively easier to store )

        6. Jaybus

          Re: Go for it

          Really? Because the US just allocated $1.5 billion for nuclear energy research, including $280 million for the Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program. ARDP is focusing on high temperature gas modular reactors and X-energy's TRISO-X fuel pellets. The fuel pellets are uranium, carbon, and oxygen fuel particles encapsulated in a carbon and ceramic-based coating that prevents the release of fission products. This tech would by no means provide bomb making material. Perhaps they just saw high temperature gas modular reactors as a better choice than thorium reactors. Granted, there is also a mobile version of this reactor that would be highly useful for military purposes, such as powering laser-based anti-missile, anti-aircraft, and weapon systems.

        7. aqk
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Go for it Governments?

          Most "western" governments will not back it, as they are afraid of losing the woman's vote.

          And you know what most women think of when one says "nuclear" - "EEK! NUCLEAR POWER IS EVIL!"

          One reason why China and India will be the future adopters of this technology.

      2. Joe Gurman

        Re: Go for it

        Would love to see practical fusion-generated power. Have felt that way since the 1950s. Please define progress, other than by press releases.

      3. Sparkus

        Fusion has been 15-20 years away

        for the past 50-60 years.......

        The ah-ha! engineering moment that will enable controlled sustainable fusion reactions has yet to occur.........

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fusion has been 15-20 years away

          In the early 90s I shared a house with one of the lead researchers into fusion power generation.

          When asked he would say "today it's 25 years away and in 25 years it will still be 25 years away".

          Turns out he was right.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: Fusion has been 15-20 years away

            His successors are planning to turn ITER on in just over four years. It may not work and it may not itself be commercially viable, but that "always 25 years" slogan is wearing pretty thin.

            It turns out that all fusion needs is a fraction of the cash regularly spaffed in the direction of other technologies, whether those be subsidies to get renewables up and running or a tacit agreement to externalise the environmental costs of non-renewables.

      4. rg287

        Re: Go for it

        I agree, though with the caveat that bringing a fast reactor to market is no bad thing since it can burn a lot of the waste fuel from thermal reactors (which the vast majority of existing reactors are).

        If they can reliably do it for $1Bn/500MW, that will be reasonably cost-effective in nuclear power terms and a small fleet of Gen IV reactors would be extremely handy for burning off some of the nastier transuranics since apparently nobody wants to host a storage site (despite geological storage being a perfectly sound solution, just not a good political solution). It would process some of our waste fuels into mostly stuff that's dangerous for 300years rather than 30,000 - and a 300year vault is trivial to maintain.

      5. Cuddles

        Re: Go for it

        "Maybe.Fusion is still X years away but progress is being made and what was bleeding edge tech a while back is slowly becoming routine."

        The thing to remember about fusion, and any other technological progress for that matter, is that progress and predictions about progress are not the same thing. Yes, back in the '50s people were saying fusion was 30 years away, and they were obviously wrong. And people today are saying fusion is 30 years away, and they may well be wrong as well. But just because they're both wrong doesn't mean they're wrong by the same amount in the same way. Scientists haven't just been sitting on their arses not doing anything for the last 70 years, we've made a huge amount of progress in understanding how fusion can work and what the people back then were wrong about that made them overly optimisitic. Obviously we still haven't solved the whole problem and some people may still be overly optimistic, but they're now making different mistakes about different things.

        When it comes down to it, predictions about scientific or technological progress in any field are not worth the electrons they're printed on. But that doesn't mean progress doesn't happen. And fusion is far from the worst offender in terms of failing to meet predictions (flight has a good argument there; people were dreaming about that for thousands of years before we figured it out). It may or may not be 30 years away, but at the very least we're 70-odd years closer than we were before.

      6. Xalran

        Re: Go for it

        Well it's a Sodium Cooled Molten Salt reactor... There's good chances it's either an Uranium or a Thorium reactor...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Go for it

          I think you will find its a sodium cooled fast breeder reactor. No molten salt in it

        2. Jim84

          Re: Go for it

          It's a Sodium cooled fast reactor, with a solar salt energy storage system borrowed from the concentrated solar energy sector. Moltex Energy are also planning to use a solar salt energy storage system to vary the output of their proposed molten salt reactor.

      7. itzman

        Re: Go for it

        Really there is no need to invent or develop massivly new reactor designs.

        What Rolls Royce and others are doing - production engineering small, and hence passively coolable under Scram, bog standard type approved pressurised water reactors for mass production at low cost with lifetime storage of used fuel (until polticians can decide what to do with it) is the low cost low risk option - is by far and away what we need right now.

        Natrium is a complex liquid sodium cooled fast breeder. Dounreay effectively. Expensive, technically tricky, and full of the same problems as Gen II reactors.

        Throw enough money at it and I am sure it will work eventually, but it seems to be repeating the same mistakes that the UK nuclear power program made - letting scientists create a better mousetrap rather tnan letting engineers cost reduce and streamline production of a perfectly adequate one

      8. Chris G

        Re: Go for it

        For reference as to which particular system Natrium is.

    2. fajensen

      Re: Go for it

      Yeah, it's like those Free Energy machines. If they work as well as the inventor thinks, then they can just string up lots of 1000W bulbs and show it!

    3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Go for it

      Call it Thorium, call it Natrium, I don't care.

      You just failed chemistry. Natrium is sodium, element 11. Thorium is element 90. I wouldn't put thorium chloride on my chips.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Go for it

        Er ... Natrium here is the heat storage mechanism, not the fissile fuel, yeah? So Pascal was saying "I don't care whether you call your reactor by the element you're using to generate heat or the one you're using to store it". He wasn't confusing the two. Unless I've missed something, which is always possible.

    4. TVU Silver badge

      Re: Go for it

      "Call it Thorium, call it Natrium, I don't care. Get it up and running and stop those coal-based generators ASAP"

      I wish they had gone for a thorium reactor as it is near term technology and the current nuclear industry should not have trouble in adapting to use thorium as a nuclear fuel.

      Link -

    5. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Go for it

      Perhaps they should call it (HALEU) High Assay, Low Enriched Uranium i.e. more enriched than commercial reactors but below bomb grade uranium. That's what it uses. The sodium is there for cooling and energy storage which is a good feature as it allows for better load following.

      There is a lot spin being applied to make it all sound soft, friendly and "natural". Natrium is German for Sodium. None of the press releases seem to mention uranium.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know what

    I was thinking the other day, what a nuclear power plant needs to make it safe, is to be cooled by an explosive metal that burns freely in the air and explodes in water....

    Almost as smart as pumping 'cooling' air through graphite moderators and wondering why the fire won't go out.... Windscale circa 1957.

    It's about 170,000 Air conditioners. If you made an airconditioner that used the blazing sunshine to cool the building then you've made saved us from another nuclear power plant. Branson's goal is a better goal than Gate's goal here. Turn the big ticket energy use into small ticket energy use and eliminate the need for the generation.

    1. fajensen

      Re: You know what

      Molten salt reactors were designed at a barbecue where a Naval Nuclear Engineer was complaning about how trixy those small U235 fueled reactors used for submarines and battleships were. This was overheard by some flake who's day job is designing neutron warheads or something at Los Alamos, who got inspired and went "Hey, hold my beer"!

      Grabbed the blackboard and started to rant:

      "On top of all the know things with conventional reactors, lets take the "hotter" Naval kind and then add some 700C molten salt to it, just to corrode all know materials we could build this device from, then we add a chemical plant next to it, to separate the isotopes out of the radiocative and corrosive molten salt.

      Yeah, Thorpe were Pussies! We can do better!!".

      The last sentence was the only bit understood by the coke-infused Venture Capitalists at the barbecue, and now Modular Molten Salt Reactors are The Shiieeets, attracting billions of surplus dollars.


      All UFO's are alien YouTubers, here to see how we blow ourselves up in quaint and amusing ways!

      1. HammerOn1024

        To Bad...

        that before shooting your mouth off, you didn't bother to read, ya know, the part about molten sodium SALT!

        NaCl... not Na!

        1. a_builder

          Re: To Bad...


          What they are actually talking about is using Sodium (Na) as the primary coolant to transfer the heat for storage to molten common salt as (NaCl).

          I do have a chemistry PhD so I do understand the difference.

          I would be interested to see what the isotope decay cascade is like on the molten salt side of this as the sodium does have an irradiated and decay cascade that will effectively radioactively transfer to the salt over time. So the salt will potentially become 'dirty'.

          The main issue us dow chemically clean the salt is. So how many unusual decay cascades get started off.

          This is not a simple problem. Unless the NaCl has been fractionally crystallised a few times to get it very pure. But then it won't be cheap tonnage chemical.....

        2. fajensen

          Re: To Bad...

          Telling others off while leaving brain in idle, a good Whetherstone move :)

          The primary cooling circuit, according to article, is Sodium - that is, the metallic form. The energy storage is "A Sodium Salt", but, not NaCL, table SALT(bangs pub table for emphasis!), which should obvious since that bit is not in the article: The Chloride in SALT(!) corrodes everything, heat capacity is not that great, melting point is high for engineering materials, it sucks water, it sucks in general!

          Instead It will be some organic salt with Sodium in it, it is of course proprietary what they will use.

    2. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: You know what

      There's a tiny difference between molten sodium and molten sodium salt. One is significantly more stable than the other for a start.

      1. fajensen

        Re: You know what

        ... Once irradiated, both kinds will a lot of Fun to clean out of a clogged pump!

        1. Red Ted

          Re: You know what

          The advantage of using sodium for a heat transfer medium is that under neutron bombardment it turns in to 24Na that has a half life of 15hrs when it turns in to stable 24Mg. So leave it for a week and the radioactive content will have reduced to 0.04%.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: You know what

            The advantage of an energy efficient air-conditioner, is it sells itself and doesn't go boom.

            1. Filippo Silver badge

              Re: You know what

              I'm sure there's enough researchers in the world for humanity to work on both better aircon and better power stations at the same time. I strongy doubt we'll fix the energy problem by only attacking it by one side.

              1. fajensen

                Re: You know what

                But, going back to dud tech and finding out why it is a dud again and again is not going to do much either.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You know what

      Other AC> Almost as smart as pumping 'cooling' air through graphite moderators and wondering why the fire won't go out.... Windscale circa 1957.

      Very unfair comment given the action of the teams to control that disaster.

      And as opposed to water cooling and building a 30 mile emergency evacuation road to get people out before the reactor blows in the event of a coolant failure? As the Americans did?

      (Remember these were plutonium production reactors. Not civil power reactors.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You know what

        Solar has a payback of ~12-15 years or so, including the battery pack, so who needs this? At best it simply delays the rollout and development of solar and the development of energy efficient tech and storage tech.

        Swapping water cooling for melted salt cooling, well I confidently predict you will get two new modes of failure: the salt will solidify in the cooling system and the cooling will fail. The salt will overheat and liberate sodium for spectacular big-badda-booms of hot mplten burning contaminated salt. Oh what fun.

        The problem with nuclear is not the cooling system, its the *failure* of the cooling system. Creating extra modes of failure doesn't make for a safer reactor.

        I chose Windscale because in hindsight, it was such a dumb thing right? Anyone whose lit a barbecue would know that was dumb. It's like major league stupid dumb. Like using a solid as a liquid coolant dumb. Like using corrosive things in a system thats difficult to maintain dumb. Like doing something that's failed again and again and again and expecting a different result this time, dumb.

        1. simonlb

          Re: You know what

          Well for a liquid molten salt reactor the design is inherently stable so a complete failure of all the cooling systems will not result in a meltdown. Also, the fuel burn - the actual amount of fuel which used - for a molten salt reactor is in the region of 98%, compared to at most 3% for every water cooled plutonium fueled reactor ever built.

          Added to that the fact the molten salt reactors can use just about any existing nuclear waste with minimal processing so you have a ready made fule source that can be almost completely used up and requires minimal reprocessing when done. Current estimates are that with the existing stockpiles of nuclear waste which will be highly radioactive for thousands of years would provide fuel for molten salt reactors for in excess of 25,000 years.

          I'd suggest you do some research as there is plenty of verified information out there to confirm the significant benefits of molten salt reactors over anything else currently in use.

          1. fajensen

            Re: You know what

            If small, modular, molten salt, reactors actually worked outside of PowerPoints with pictures of green fields with containers on them, the millitary would not bother with their 1950's U235-burning designs!

            The Good Thing about this project is that some of some squillionaires money will be going down the drain, we get to watch the show from a relatively safe distance, and nature gains another super-site.

            1. Xalran

              Re: You know what

              The problem is that the small, modular, molten salt, reactors ( especially of the Thorium kind ) don't create the plutonium the military are so avid of.

              Why do you think there's only one single type of reactor that has been developped all over the world ?

              The 3% U235 ( Water, Helium, whatever else, cooled ) reactor is the best reactor when it comes to creating Pu239.

              You can't produce Pu239 with a Thorium reactor... and the U235 produced is contaminated by U233

              making it impossible to use in military applications that go boom.

              1. Charles 9

                Re: You know what

                Ever thought that the military might have more than enough fissile bomb material for its needs? There IS such a thing as "too much of a good thing." If they have enough, having more just costs more to keep under watch so that unwanted parties don't steal some and use it to make their own weapons.

              2. Xalran

                Re: You know what

                Replying on myself...

                Apparently the Military are interested in modern nuclear reactors ( in that case a peeble bed one ) :


              3. Julz

                Re: You know what

                Bingo, spot on!

            2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: You know what

              If small, modular, molten salt, reactors actually worked outside of PowerPoints with pictures of green fields with containers on them, the millitary would not bother with their 1950's U235-burning designs!

              Ok, so not an MSR as such, but a lead-bismuth cooled reactor was used in the Russian Alfa class speed boats.. A long time ago. Took me a moment to figure out where they'd been used. But guessing there were doctrinal differences, ie US & NATO subs perhaps being expected to be out on extended patrols, whereas the Alfas seemed more of a defensive boat that could surge out & hunt incoming hostile warships.

              But drawback was I guess that if a liquid metal reactor cooled, metal solidifies and reactor can't be restarted without first re-melting the metal.. Which would seem difficult/dangerous to try and do at sea, especially in wartime. So I guess it made sense for the West to go with reactor designs that could be restarted rather than risk losing a very expensive boat + crew.

              But that wouldn't be as much of an issue for civil reactors, and a 'fail safe' mode has obvious advantages. Think there was a YT channel showing Russian nuclear submarines, and a reactor being lifted out of one. Always impressed me just how small they are. Which I guess is a big part of the reason why I like the SMR concept. Even though the reactor is.. err.. a critical part of a nuclear submarine, it doesn't seem to take up that much hull volume.

              And then there's the fuel efficiency, so a nuclear submarine can go a decade or more on a single tank of 'gas' before needing to be refuelled vs conventional submarines or surface ships that need a lot of logistics to keep them mobile.

          2. itzman

            Re: You know what

            Natrium isnt a molten salt cooled reactor.

            Its a molten sodium cooled fast breeder reactor plus a heatbank that stores thermal energy in molten salt to allow it to modulate its output above and below the reactor output in order to provide dispatchable load following without having to have a pumped storage hydro scheme coupled up. Batteries of course are completely unsuitable for grid scale storage

            At an intelligent guess I would say it will mostly work eventually long after small modular reactors of bog standard design have become the de facto standard, and more money than even Gates can afford has been spent on it.

          3. hplasm

            Re: You know what

            " have a ready made fule source"



        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You know what

          Other AC> Like using corrosive things in a system thats difficult to maintain dumb.

          Do you mean water?

          The idea behind gas cooled reactors was that at a push there was always plenty of coolant floating around. Also if there was an over pressure issue you can compress a gas. This was another criterion as to why UK reactors were gas cooled. Ever tried compressing water?

          Gas cooling was never going to be as efficient for heat exchange. Hence the switch to PWRs. Just speak to any old CEGB engineers about that choice.

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: You know what

          "Solar has a payback of ~12-15 years or so, including the battery pack, so who needs this?"

          Anyone who lives where the sun don't shine? Even here at 54N, daylight hours in mid winter is maybe 6 hours at most. Note. Daylight hours, not sunshine hours. And if the sun is out, it's low all day.

        4. IGotOut Silver badge

          Re: You know what

          "Solar has a payback of ~12-15 years or so, including the battery pack, so who needs this?"

          Well you'll find that both solar and wind tend to be pretty poor in the winter, just when you need electricity.

          Also both are inherently unpredictable. If there is little to no wind or decent light for a few days, then people will quite literally die.

    4. Xalran

      Re: You know what

      Well Super Phenix was safe enough, despite all it's problem being basically a full scale prototype of a Sodium Cooled Uranium Fuelled Nuclear Powerplant.

      Too bad nobody in the French government at that time had the guts to tell all the ecologists and the nymbys to go fsck off and kept the thing running...

  5. Steve Graham

    Missing the point

    The issue isn't liquid sodium cooling, it's the "travelling wave" concept. Basically, you get a big, big lump of depleted uranium, and put a fissile core in the middle of it. Neutrons from the core transmute the inert uranium into fissile isotopes of uranium and plutonium. Eventually, there is enough of these to create fission in a shell around the core, while the core burns out. The shell neutrons transmute the depleted uranium on the outer edge, so that the fission process gradually moves outwards until everything is consumed.

    One advantage is that while you are breeding plutonium and fissile uranium, it is fairly inaccessible if you wanted some for a bomb.

    1. fajensen

      Re: Missing the point

      One can do all that better, because one can control the neutron rate and energy to get at those hard-to-reach isotopes, by using an Accelerator Driven System.

      Some of my former colleagues are busy building a science prototype, "Myrrha" in Belgium of all places.

    2. Charles 9

      Re: Missing the point

      They're both issues. Sodium is a tricky thing, especially at high temperatures. Most of the problems with research into sodium-cooled reactors stemmed from leaks. Try looking up the "Sodium Reactor Experiment" and "Monju"

      As for the traveling wave concept, it seems fiendishly complicated, not to mention lacking in critical research. RoI on it seems sketchy at best, and research into long-term RoI for power plants in general suggest the numbers could be excessively rose-tinted.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Missing the point

        not JUST Monju

        EVERY SINGLE Sodium cooled reactor has caught fire at some point in its operational cycle. If you want t build safe nuclear power systems, using materials which burn furiously when exposed to oxygen or water is a spectacularly bad idea in the atmosphere of this planet

        Molten salt was proven safe and impossible to burn or rot brains (which molten lead coolant fumes did to russian reactor techs) at the exact same time that a bunch of reckless Californian yahoos were burning sodium nuclear waste not far from the headwaters of San Diego's water supply

        The dickwads disposed of sodium by floating it in 44-gallon drums in a pond and shooting holes in them!!!

        Monju was a lot more carefully operated but that didn't help when 10 tons of molten sodium from the secondary loop ended up in the basement. It might have been non-radioactive but it was still catastrophic

  6. Nifty Silver badge

    Have to dump all that spare energy somewhere while trialling this POC.

    Generate Billcoins?

  7. Wellyboot Silver badge

    location, location, location..

    >>this plant is to be built on the site of an old coal mine<<

    Reactors are built on several thousand tonnes of concrete and surrounded by several thousand more, how far down are the old levels?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: how far down are the old levels?

      Perhaps it's an old open cast coal mine?

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: how far down are the old levels?

        That would make the eventual decommissioning process easier, just fill in the hole..

      2. Teebs2021

        Re: how far down are the old levels?

        15 of the 16 coal mines in Wyoming are surface mines, meaning they're starting on flat ground that is already cleared, typically in a pit.

    2. fajensen

      Re: location, location, location..

      Maybe they are following the Tried and Tested Windscale approach and they plan to dump all the waste down those old mineshafts?

    3. Sudosu Bronze badge

      Re: location, location, location..

      It goes down until you start hitting the turtles.

    4. Fred Goldstein

      Re: location, location, location..

      Wyoming mines are mainly open surface pits, not deep.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Re: location, location, location..

      > For those who like to read the runes differently, the fact that this plant is to be built on the site of an old coal mine in one of the US’ major coal-producing states will be enough to power a few grey cells - enough to raise a smile at least. ®

      Yes, an interesting combination of subsidence and subsidy.

    6. Sven Coenye

      Re: location, location, location..

      Someone lost track while writing TFA? The lead paragraph mentions a coal plant. I read that as a coal fired power plant, not the mine it turns into at the end. The former would make some sense as things like the hook-up to the grid are already in place, May even be able to reuse some of the turbine bits.

    7. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: location, location, location..

      Water moderated reactors are built that way to contain steam explosions. If you don't have water in contact with the radioactives then you don't need nearly as much mass in your containment building

      If you don't have containment buildings like that to contain steam explosions in water moderated systems..... well, Chernobyl is one example

      the issue is that the limiting temperature of fission reactions is 1150C (doppler effects), so you need a coolant which doesn't boil below that temperature.

      Water works for demonstration purposes. The Nautilus reactor was small and effectively a "laboratory glassware demonstrator". Alvin Weinberg was pretty unhappy that industry took his design and scaled it up to silly sizes. That's why he came up with a much safer industrial prototype design (the molten salt reactor)

  8. harmjschoonhoven

    1972 was the last time

    a sodium cooled fast breeder nuclear reactor was commissioned in Germany, the SNR-300 in Kalkar. It was build at the cost of 4 billion USD, but never used. It is now a (profitable) themepark for kids.

    BTW The Dutch protests against Kalkar gave Milieudefensie a boost. The same organisation that now successfully prosecuted Royal Dutch Shell as a global polluter.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: 1972 was the last time

      BTW The Dutch protests against Kalkar gave Milieudefensie a boost. The same organisation that now successfully prosecuted Royal Dutch Shell as a global polluter.

      Those nutjobs and neo-luddites also protested against Petten's HFR and it's proposed replacement, Pallas. And also prowl beaches, looking for molybdenum-99 and daughter products, and then claim those must have come from nuclear leaks, and shut down nuclear plants now! And they're semi-correct, although the 'leaks' probably come from patients who've been fed/injected with deadly radiation stuff like Technetium-99. Which then decays to ruthenium-99 and that stuff has a half-life of over 200,000 years!

      So ban this sort of thing! Or not, because radioisotopes can be rather vital in medicine, and can't easily (or cheaply) be produced without nuclear alchemy. Sure, it's possible to produce molybdenum-99 with a particle accelerator, but a tad energy intensive. Plus needing a LOT of cheap, reliable energy. It's one of those fun things to troll neo-luddites with. So you have an application that requires reliable energy for hours/days to avoid expensive shut-downs and machine cleaning. Now power that with 'renewables' like windmills, and you can't rely on cheap grid power..

      But such is politics. Nuclear power saves a lot of lives, and hopefully this demo plant will demonstrate the feasibility of SMRs for the energy we'll need to power our 'Green' transformation. The UK is probably fsck'd due to Boris's choice of Green policy advisor.

      PS.. but we thought: Na, people will groan...

      I did. Bad vulture!

      1. fajensen

        Re: 1972 was the last time

        If they fucked Shell in the ass they are OK people!

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Elledan

    Proper Generation IV reactor design

    There are two hugely exciting aspects about this Natrium project: the first is that it comes with its own energy storage (molten salt, much like with e.g. CSP), the second is that it's a fast neutron reactor. For those unaware, a fast neutron reactor employs fast neutrons (instead of slower, 'thermal' neutrons in LWRs) which are able to fission not just U-235 fuel like most fission reactors, but also transuranics and actinides.

    This is similar to Russia's BN-series of reactors, of which the BN-600 and BN-800 types are currently being used to test an aspect that's central to Russia's nuclear power program: closing the uranium fuel cycle. This involves processing spent fuel from conventional LWR (thermal neutron) reactors and using it as MOX fuel for full burn-up. This would leave just some short-lived isotopes at the end, with no significant levels of uranium (U-235, U-238 or otherwise), plutonium isotopes, etc. remaining.

    In essence, this Natrium reactor has the potential for not only lightning-fast load following due to its molten salt buffer, but also the ability to use up all the spent fuel in the US that's stored around the country.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Using spent fuel

      Presumably that means it will be cheap, since companies have to pay to store/monitor/secure it today, so getting rid of it reduces that burden. They'd probably pay to have it taken off their hands, though you'd still be on the hook for paying the shipping cost which is likely substantial due to all the safeguards that would be required.

      1. Xalran

        Re: Using spent fuel... And getting paid to...

        Actually if a company get things rolling on the molten salt fast neutron breeder reactor, beside making money from electricity production, the owner could also make money by getting paid by the other nuclear reactor operators to get rid of their wastes.

    2. itzman

      Re: Proper Generation IV reactor design

      a molten salt heat bank is not lightning fast load following since it will still be used to generate steam for a turbine.. unless they use flash steam...which no other power station to my knowledge ever has.

      It will ramp up and down as fast as a coal burner, maybe even a CCGT, but not as fast as hydro.

      A well manged PWR is almost as fast.

      1. Jim84

        Re: Proper Generation IV reactor design

        "a molten salt heat bank is not lightning fast load following since it will still be used to generate steam for a turbine.. unless they use flash steam...which no other power station to my knowledge ever has.

        It will ramp up and down as fast as a coal burner, maybe even a CCGT, but not as fast as hydro.

        A well manged PWR is almost as fast."

        The speed of the heat bank is not the reason they are building it. They are building the heat bank so that the reactor can vary it's output without being turned off or run at a lower power level that makes no use of the expensive built assets, raising the overall cost of electricity generated.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Proper Generation IV reactor design

        A bloody big battery is probably the fastest thing. Short-lived, but long enough for your other tech to get going. We have a mixture of technologies, so why not use several?

  10. Abominator

    Worked great at Dounreay on the northern tip of Scotland.

    Oh wait, no, no it didn't.

    Great for jobs though, if jobs is decommissioning and cleanup.

  11. x 7

    Sodium vs Sodium-Potassium alloy

    Surprised at the use of sodium in the primary cooling circuit. Sodium-potassium alloy is a better bet as its liquid at room temperature so easier to handle - and has been used in reactors before

    FWIW Thunderbird 2 was said to use either liquid Na or NaK back in the 1960's - the liquid metal took the heat directly from the aircraft's nuclear reactor core and dumped into the ramjets (used for supercruise flight) that ran along the two sidestruts that held the front and back of the aircraft together.

    Chemical rockets were used for launch until enough air was flowing through the ramjets.

  12. cantankerous swineherd

    this turkey won't fly.

    nuclear power isn't a commercial proposition, this is just a billionaire's toy

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      It isn't a commercial proposition in the USA, but neither is public transport or health care.

      There are lots of other countries that would like a reliable source of energy which doesn't involve them having to invade the middle East for oil supplies.

    2. Xalran

      Tell that to a French... with 70%+ of the electricity production being nuclear.

      1. genghis_uk

        As well as supplying about 20% of the UK power...

        1. itzman

          As well as supplying about 20% of the UK rock bottom prices well below what even our coal plant can produce..

 winter we supply france of course

    3. cantankerous swineherd

      unpopular opinion!

  13. Twanky


    Sodium-potassium alloy is a better bet as its liquid at room temperature so easier to handle...

    I think we have slightly diverging views on what 'easy' might mean.

    To borrow a phrase: It scares the willies out of me.

    1. x 7

      Re: Easier


      It needs careful handling, but a room-temperature liquid is always going to be safer than something you have to heat through several hundred degrees in the absence of oxygen or water.

      I can remember talking to Callery Chemicals about it 30 years ago, and they had the safety aspects well sorted - it was used in several industrial processes. They were also supplying it for nuclear use at the time - but they wouldn't talk about that.

      The Russians were touting it around at the same time - though we had extreme worries about using them as a source

  14. a_yank_lurker

    Na Reactors

    Silly Billy should do his research, sodium cooled reactors have been used off and on since the 50s including in submarines (USN definitely, not sure about the USSR). There were technical issues inherent in using sodium that made PWR/BWR reactors more reasonable options. Liquid sodium is not an easy material to work with. Also, as noted above, thorium reactors would be a better technology to commercialize.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Na Reactors

      Didn't Russia use MSRs on a lot of it's submarines, pretty successfully and decades ago?

      Also agree on thorium given there's huge quantities of that laying around, often in spoil heaps as a consequence of it being unwanted from previous mineral extraction. It's one of life's little ironies. Thorium in spoil heaps is hazardous waste, and keeps the EPA (un)gainfully employed. Or it's cheap fuel, just waiting to be exploited. Which the EPA would no doubt interfere with as well.

      1. MacroRodent

        Re: Na Reactors

        Fun fact: Thorium oxide was used in the "mantles" of oil and gas lamps. This is a kind of net that surrounds the flame, and greatly increases the light output, compared to a naked flame. Probably the most important previous industrial use of Thorium.

  15. Herbert Meyer

    remember ?

    Gates last technological innovation was Windows. A fission reactor as reliable and safe as Windows. I will be in the basement, with a few rolls of duct tape. And a case of spam.

    1. Herbert Meyer

      Re: remember ?

      And if you are going to the store, pick up a tin of powdered eggs and some candles. I will go into the attic and get out my old "Playboy" magazines, We will be doing it on paper for a while.

  16. elregidente

    That was best worst joke I've read in a long time :-)

    I doff my cap to you, El Reg.

  17. Tromos

    I had three jokes about Sodium...

    ...but Ms. Mouskouri objected to two of them and the third is not applicable.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: I had three jokes about Sodium...

      I'm undecided between cringe & clever for that.


      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: I had five jokes about Sodium...

        Na na na na na!

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Re: Wyoming

      Not if it all goes horribly wrong

    2. Bitsminer Silver badge

      Re: Wyoming

      Wyoming, where men are men and sheep are nervous.

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Wyoming

      More so than DC, despite the lower population.

  19. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

    This is a molten sodium cooled reactor using highly enriched (barely 20%) Uranium.

    All this from the guy who brought us the Blue Screen of Death.

    So glad that I live nowhere near Wyoming.

  20. Teejay

    Thankfully, the world is simple

    Germany is decomissioning all atomic power plants, because they are deemed dangerous, which is an understandable point of view.

    At the same time, Germany is set on saving the world by plastering its complete landscape with wind-turbines. (Well, actually it's regulatory capture by big business, but let's leave that aside to keep it simple.)

    All this, however, isn't nearly enough energy for all the planned electric cars which by the way become CO2 neutral when they have been driven something like 150.000 kilometers or more, until they then need new batteries not much later.

    So Germany will have to import electricity from surrounding countries that have atomic power plants and burn gas.

    All while those self-anointed eco-philanthropists like Bill Gates, to whom the same people look up to who just happily applauded the decommissioning of atomic power plants in Germany, start building new atomic power plants elsewhere.

    Great, isn't it?

    1. MacroRodent

      Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

      > Germany is decomissioning all atomic power plants,

      One of the most disastrous decisions for environment, ever (after the introduction of leaded gazoline).

      Germany is one of those countries that could run nuclear power plants safely, and they are much better for climate than coal or natural gas (the use of which is increasing in Germany as a result of this stupid decision).

      1. 9Rune5

        Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

        Someone once claimed that the reason they do this is to effectively demonstrate how insanely expensive it is to solely rely on renewables when you do not count nuclear as a renewable.

        Those hippie protesters will then have to face angry mobs who very much like their hospitals and jobs supplied with reliable electricity.

        OTOH that would be one helluva expensive lesson to learn. Hopefully they will see reason ere long.

        1. Spherical Cow

          Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

          "...when you do not count nuclear as a renewable"

          Um, it's not? There is a finite amount of uranium in the ground.

          1. 9Rune5

            Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

            When the known supply is counted in millennia, there is no practical difference. Might as well worry about the sun's lifespan at that point.

            (and then there is the whole thorium thing)

            1. Charles 9

              Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

              I'm reminded of a quote: "The way he runs things, it won't last a hundred."

      2. fajensen

        Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

        For now, yes, Germany is indeed a safe-hands country, even democratic, country, populated with enlightened citizens that only loses their collective shit once in a while.

        But, it doesn't solve the physics problem: Human timescales versus Decay Times. If the Romans had built nuclear power plants, we who survived the collapse of that Roman empire and their abandoned facilites losing containment to rust and rats, we would be tending and re-potting their old waste, probably crating a religion around it to keep the processing going for a few hundred generations more.

        Regarding the Molten Salt, Molten Sodium, anything Molten or Liquid, that is radioactive. Despite money, and the best brains and engineers at the time, THORP barely ran for the 30 years it was operational, now it will be a waste-dump till 2070, true to the pattern of Grandad leavin a shed full of shitty chemicals and other rubbish for the kids to dispose of!

        1. MacroRodent

          Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

          Just bury them deep into stable rock.

          No need for a religion: If technical knowledge is not lost, people will know about the site and its dangers, and will not go digging. If we get the "A Canticle for Leibowitz" scenario (new dark ages), people will not even be able to dig there, until enough technology is rediscovered. At which point they will know about radioactivity (or will learn pretty soon), hopefully also have deciphered old scriptures describing waste repositories.

          Of course geological processes can also bring the waste up, but with careful design and site selection, it can be ensured this is not likely to happen before the waste has decayed to safe levels of radioactivity.

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

          As several people have already mentioned, fast reactors can actually turn your long-lived waste into short-lived waste.

        3. itzman

          Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

          Nuclear waste.

          1. The longest lived nuclear isotope in the world today is the natural uranium we burn to make nuclear power, thus reducing the total amount of radioactivity in the world.

          2. There are ~4 billion tonnes of it in the worlds oceans, yet people get excited when a few pounds of radioisotopes were released into the sea at Fukushima.

          3. the longer lived the isotope, the less active and the less dangerous it is. If the Romans had had reactors by now they would have decomissioned themselves.

          4. If the Romans had had reactors, their Empire would not have collapsed

          5. The science now tells us what we didn't know in the Cold War period, that chronic exposure to low level radiation up to 200msV/year has absolutely no discernible effect on cells. And total dose is not what counts - peak dose is what counts.

          6. If reactors were built and waste dispaosal were done to reflect what we now know about radiation - that its about 1000 times less dangerous than those old cold war regulations suggest - as evinced by the zero death count from radiation at 3MI and Fukushima and the piddling death count at Chernobyl - less than a hundred people, all exposed to massive single doses fighting fires - then most of the cost would vanish.

          Nevertheless this project is, while sexy, not really commercial. We dont need advanced reactors, we need cheap reactors, and that means trying to meet regulatory ratcheting driven by anti-nuclear sentiment paid for by other energy interests with simple cost effective boring ordinary 50 year old technology that is developed to be quick to manufactire and install, and cheap.

          If the nuclear industry spent one percent of the money it spends on trying to meet insane and ever moving safety goal posts, on educating people on how safe it was...

          Having said that, heatbanks as a way of storing heat energy before conversion to electricity are interesting and may be more cost effective at supplying peak demand than building either pumped hydro (if handy nesaby mountains and water exist) than overcapacity of reactors running below full capacity much of the time.

          What is disppointing in reading posts by El Reg readers is that one would have expected the readership to be both techically savvy and capable of researching what this project actually is, and yet the majority of comments betray utter ignorance of either.

    2. adam 40 Silver badge

      CO2 Neutral Electric Cars?

      > the planned electric cars which by the way become CO2 neutral when they have been driven something like 150.000 kilometers or more<

      If they aren't CO2 neutral at the point of manufacture, why does driving them 150000km make them so?

      Please explain.

    3. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Thankfully, the world is simple

      You can have a long discussion whether it is a good idea to build nuclear power plants.

      But closing them down prematurely is utterly daft as you have generated 80% of of highly radioactive waste in form of the reactor core already - you may as well operate it for its full life and shut some lignite mines instead.

      I am sure Merkel knew this, but decided it was a lost political case.

  21. Vocational Vagabond


    I'm Clippy, you seem to be having touble with your reaction rate, would you like some help with that?

  22. MacroRodent

    Windows for Nuclear Power

    ... is probably the OS for the control system.

    (mine is the one with a copy of "Just For Fun" in the back pocket).

    1. Totally not a Cylon

      Re: Windows for Nuclear Power

      Running on either ZX80 or ZX81....

      I can't remember which was the one which the advert claimed 'could run a power station'...

      1. electricmonk

        Re: Windows for Nuclear Power

        Running on either ZX80 or ZX81....

        I can't remember which was the one which the advert claimed 'could run a power station'...

        ZX81. So long as you Blu-tack the RAM pack firmly in place.

        1. PeteS46

          Re: Windows for Nuclear Power

          ZX81 RAM - I used duct tape to secure it.

          The 'power station control' bit was an add-on eprom (from Dave Husband IIRC) which converted the ZX81 to be a 'Forth' machine. Up to 4 threads! It worked so well that I wore out the keyboard!

          I probably still have the remains somewhere....


  23. Conundrum1885

    Wasn't there

    A reactor design that used liquid metal at a much lower temperature?

    IIRC BiPb was once considered as its a lot safer and can't catch fire if leaked.

    Unsure how far they got, but the big problem is pumping a metal alloy is not simple.

  24. Chris G

    Wanted ad

    We are looking for an experienced plant safety officer.

    Extensive benefits are offered including full health and donuts.

  25. Anonymous South African Coward

    Will this turn into another Hinkley Point C?

    At least it'll be BillG's money being wasted, right?

  26. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    The reactor is the right size

    A couple of academics from UCNW Bangor proposed that building a set of medium-sized plants (around 400MW, IIRC) was actually more sensible that one or two mega-plants. I can't find the article right now...

    It seems that some things don't scale infinitely larger. Aeroplanes and bridges come to mind.

    1. itzman

      Re: The reactor is the right size

      The benefits of the small modular reactors being developed worldwide are eaily listed

      1. Small reactors can use the cube-square law of heatloss versis size to be safe under passive cooling in SCRAM conditions. At a stroke the cause of the only two core meltdowns of PWRS is eliminated

      2. Small reactors can be assembled in factories under controlled conditions and then shipped out for installation, massively reducing build inspection and certification times.

      3. Larger outputs can still be achieved by use of multiple units

      4. Water coooling may not be needed for smaller units making siting less of an issue.

      5. Although less efficient in the use of uranium and especially when compared to fast breeders, there is no shortage of uranium at the moment and its dirt cheap.

      Although the bogeyman of man made climate change is pretty much dead in the water in scientific circles, the fact remains that fossil fuel costs both in terms of cash and energy required keep on rising as the low hanging fruits of mining and drilling have all been plucked, and the massive propganada campaign about CO2 has left the ill informed public thinking they need alternatives, and renewable energy - which was esily provable over a decde ago to be unsuitable and not fit for purpose - is now undergoing subsidectomy, there remains only one viable and poltically acceptable alternative - and that is nuclear power of some sort..

      And whilst not intrinsically ideal from an overall efficiency and engineering perspective, factory built type approved mass produced small (350MW ) modular pressurised water reactors would use thoroughly known and proven technology - the only thing different is that they would be factory built - and can couple up in as many uniyts as are needed to bog standard steam turbines up to a gigwatta mecahnical output or more. Rolls Royce Trent gas turbine units are already used in multiples in gas power stations feeding steam boilers to drive additional generation capacity in CCGT power stations so the modular technology already exists.

      What the public probably thinks (or has been told to think) it wants , is a Heath Robinson array of windmills, solar panels, hydrogen production, grid scale batteries made of unobtanium, transcontinental interconnectors and BEVS using lithium sourced from the imagination - there not being that much around to mine...

      What it needs however, is a couple of hundred small modular reactors, driving the grid and synthetic hydrocarbon plants. Nothing in the chemical table beats hydrocarbons for energy density and safety in off grid power.

      Except uranium and plutonium of course, and how far we will have nuclear ships powered by very small modular reactors plying the oceans remains to be seen.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: The reactor is the right size

        Opinions about the long term RoI of nuclear versus renewable seem to be up for debate.

        Possible counterargument:

  27. ShadowSystems

    A source for cheap renewable power...

    Take a politician, strap a forehead mounted string-on-a-stick, then dangle a dollar from the string just out of reach. Place the politician on a treadmill that's connected to a power generator & enjoy your cheap terawatts of clean energy! =-D

    1. Anonymous South African Coward

      Re: A source for cheap renewable power...

      That's all that most politicians do these days - chase the money and enrich themselves, no matter the cost.

      All of these political shenanigans reminded me of a quote from Dune :

      Frank Herbert — 'And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning 'That path leads ever down into stagnation.'

    2. KBeee

      Re: A source for cheap renewable power...

      I wouldn't call it "clean energy". Seen the crap politicians put out?

  28. PeteS46

    The "Na" joke - sigh! Not even worth a groan.

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