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Federal awards put Tri-Cities on map for next generation nuclear power via Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business

Wendy Culverwell

Tri-City economic development officials are over the moon after the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would invest millions into the advanced nuclear reactor ambitions of two Energy Northwest partners.

Bellevue-based TerraPower, founded and helmed by Bill Gates to develop safe, carbon-free power, and X-energy, based in Rockville, Maryland, each received $80 million in initial funding to build advanced nuclear reactors within 5-7 years.

Both teams will site their reactors at Energy Northwest’s nuclear campus north of Richland.


The $160 million awarded in October launches a seven-year, $3.2 billion plan that will see DOE invest in safer, low-cost advanced nuclear technology, subject to federal appropriations and industry matches.

While nuclear power draws sharp criticism from anti-nuclear organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and others, the awards were warmly received in the Mid-Columbia, which prides itself on its pioneering role in nuclear development as a Manhattan Project community.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, called the ARDP awards “an absolute game-changer” that cements the Tri-Cities as “a global leader in nuclear energy innovation.”


The next generation of nuclear power does not require as much water as Columbia Generating System. TerraPower and X-energy technology both use “dry cooling” technology similar to the Fast Flux Test Facility. It requires less than 10% of the water of traditional reactors. Still, the technology does require water.

More promising, both sites were previously certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Washington’s Energy Facilities Siting Council. The certifications have lapsed, but regulators have pledged to recycle the research for the next round, a move that could shorten permitting processes, Cullen said.


The commitment to advanced nuclear technology should not change when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

Biden voiced support for developing new nuclear technologies to fight climate change in his response to a 2019 Politico survey of candidates for the Democratic nomination for president. He specifically highlighted small modular reactors being developed with support from the DOE network of national laboratories.

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    TerraPower LLC, a nuclear energy company headed by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, is looking for new partners for early-stage trials of its technology. The new US rules force it to cancel the agreement with China, the company official told the Wall Street Journal.

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