Next-gen Nuclear Reactor Company Signs Deal
by Lisa Stiffler
A challenge of securing reactor fuel, Russia is currently
the world's only commercial producer of HALEU.
X-energy, a company building next-generation nuclear reactors, announced Wednesday that it has an agreement with Energy Northwest to build up to 12 of the modular devices in Central Washington.
The news is something of a surprise after Maryland-based X-energy in March scuttled its plans to construct its first four demonstration reactors in the state, opting for a deal with chemical giant Dow to build in a Gulf state.
The new joint development agreement outlines the construction of the nuclear company's Xe-100 advanced small modular reactors at a site in Richland, Wash., that is controlled by Energy Northwest and adjacent to Columbia Generating Station -- the state's only commercial nuclear power plant.
If all 12 reactors were built, they could generate up to a total of 960 megawatts of power, with the first reactor planned to come online by 2030.
The announcement did not disclose what the project is expected to cost or how it will be financed.
As the world strives to cut its use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels and slow global warming, there is renewed interest in nuclear power. Companies are developing smaller, less expensive reactors than were built in past decades. Energy generated from nuclear fission, or the splitting of atoms, doesn't create carbon pollution, but does produce radioactive waste.
While wind and solar power installations have been rapidly expanding, power grids need some of their energy from sources that operate 24/7, which could include nuclear, hydroelectric dams, batteries and other alternatives.
"Energy Northwest's mission is to provide the region with clean, reliable and affordable electricity, and X-energy's innovative advanced reactor technology will be a valuable addition to our existing portfolio of carbon-free electric generating resources," said Bob Schuetz, CEO of Energy Northwest, in a statement.
X-energy is proceeding with its arrangement with Dow in which it will deploy its first Xe-100 reactors at an existing Dow industrial site in Texas. That project is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). DOE awarded X-energy $1.2 billion to help fund the demonstration plant.
X-energy plans to begin building its four reactors in Texas in 2026, with construction completed by 2030.
Following the announcement of the Texas project, "Energy Northwest reinforced its plans to work with X-energy to bring our technology to Central Washington," said Robert McEntyre, an X-energy spokesman, by email. "We've been working with their team since that time to determine the best path forward, and today's announcement reflects that progress and their desire to be a fast-follower of ARDP."
Washington state's TerraPower, a next-gen nuclear power company backed by Bill Gates, is slated to build its first demonstration plant in Kemmerer, Wyo., on the site of one of the state's retiring coal plants. That project is a $4 billion public-private venture with about $2 billion in support from the same DOE program that's backing X-energy.
TerraPower announced last October that it was conducting a feasibility study to explore additional locations for up to five of its reactors. Those locations have not been publicized.
While both X-energy and TerraPower have been moving ahead with their plans, both face the challenge of securing reactor fuel. Russia is currently the world's only commercial producer of HALEU (high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel and pronounced hay-lou). That source was scrapped after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and ongoing war.
On Monday, TerraPower and Centrus Energy announced a memorandum of understanding to "significantly expand their collaboration" in an effort to establish commercial-scale, domestic production capabilities of HALEU. The fuel would be produced at a Centrus facility in Ohio.
TerraPower's CEO last year warned that operation of its demonstration plant was going to slip at least two years to 2030 because of the lack of HALEU. The MOU should help TerraPower meet that new deadline, according to the companies.
X-energy previously announced plans to create a fuel production facility in Tennessee to supply its reactors.
What is High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU)? US Department of Energy, 4/7/20
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs