A nuclear energy project in Wyoming backed by Bill Gates and the US Energy Department has been delayed by at least two years due to concerns about the availability of a fuel type currently manufactured in Russia, the head of TerraPower, the company building it, said on Wednesday.
According to TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque, the war has exhausted supplies of high-assay low-enriched uranium or HALEU. That implies TerraPower’s Natrium nuclear project in Wyoming will not enter demonstration service as anticipated in 2028.
“In February 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower, as well as for others in our industry,” Levesque said.
He claims that efforts to bring US manufacturers into commercial production and find alternative suppliers have failed.
“Given the lack of fuel availability now and that there has been no construction started on new fuel enrichment facilities, TerraPower is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to bring the Natrium reactor into operation,” Levesque added.
Gates co-founded TerraPower in 2006 and has served as its chairman ever since. The company’s goal is to supply the world with more economical, secure, and environmentally responsible nuclear energy.
Its Natrium project is anticipated to cost $4 billion to develop, with the US Energy Department funding around half of that.
TerraPower intends to fuel Natrium with HALEU, which has a greater level of enrichment than the 5%-enriched uranium-235 fuel currently used in American nuclear reactors.
According to Levesque, the company expected to utilize Russian supply for its initial core load because the US does not have the capacity to enrich uranium-235.
However, in February, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut off the gasoline supply after the United States, the European Union, and other Western allies levied sanctions on Moscow.
According to Levesque, TerraPower and the Department of Energy are now seeking alternate sources of HALEU and urge lawmakers to pass a $2.1 billion funding package to encourage low-enriched uranium manufacturing in the United States.