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TerraPower’s Plan // Regulations Strangle US Lithium Push

Welcome to Grid Brief! Here’s what we’re looking at today: TerraPower’s plan to begin construction on its advanced nuclear reactor in the US, America’s hopes for domestic lithium mining are hitting regulatory blockades, and more.

TerraPower’s Plan

Bill Gates’s TerraPower expects to begin building its natrium reactor on a former coal plant site in Wyoming this June.

“TerraPower, which has raised almost $1bn in private funding, signed an agreement with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation in December to explore using Natrium reactors to generate electricity and produce hydrogen in the United Arab Emirates,” reports the Financial Times. “The company has secured pledges from the US government to provide up to $2bn to complete work at TerraPower’s first plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming.”

TerraPower’s reactor is revamp of 1950s molten salt reactor technology that uses liquid sodium rather than water for cooling. The hope is that such a reactor can be delivered at half the cost of a water-cooled reactor.

TerraPower did not disclose to the FT cost estimates for power produced with its Natrium-branded reactor.

Regulations Strangle US Lithium Push

The US wants to compete with China on lithium production in order to break free from China’s lock on the mineral. But a dense labyrinth of regulations has trapped progress on lithium mining in several states.

“U.S. federal officials in Washington are largely powerless to force states to change regulations, leaving the Biden administration's aggressive electrification targets beholden to the pace at which local officials update outdated statutes,” reports Reuters. 

The bricolage of local and state regulations and policies combined with stringent federal regulation is stymying lithium mining development in Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Nevada.

"The uncertainty is the scariest part," an owner of lithium-rich acreage in several states who declined to be named told Reuters. "How do you develop these projects and muster financial support without a regulatory structure in place?"

But these regulatory hurdles aren’t the only headwinds: technical obstacles and slumped commodity prices are their own speed bumps.

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Crom’s Blessing

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