Bill Gates is the chairman of the 30 person company TerraPower LLC. They recently completed a basic design for a reactor that theoretically could run untouched for decades on spent nuclear fuel. Now the company is seeking a partner to help build the experimental reactor, and a country willing to host it.
A traveling-wave reactor would start with a little bit of uranium 235 but most of the fuel would be uranium-238.
I wanted to share some of what I’ve been learning about state budgets. I got interested in them because states supply most of the money for public education in the United States. What I’ve been learning, though, is that states are under increasingly intense budget pressure, and not just because of the aftereffects of the economic recession, although that has made things worse.
There are long-term problems with state budgets that a return to economic growth won’t solve. Health-care costs and pension obligations are projected to grow at rates that look to be completely unsustainable, unless something is done.
In Bill Gates 2010 Energy TED Talk (Innovating to Zero, video embedded below) he said:
The deadline for the world to cut all of its carbon emissions is 2050. He suggested that researchers spend the next 20 years inventing and perfecting clean-energy technologies, and then the next 20 years implementing them. The world’s energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas, he said, and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.
Burning the enriched uranium would shoot neutrons into the depleted uranium making up roughly 90% of the fuel. That process would produce plutonium, which would create energy as it continued to get hit by even more neutrons. It’s a slow, controlled reaction that could continue over many years without need of human intervention. And in TerraPower’s design, the core of the reactor, where fission takes place, would be small: a cylinder about 10 feet wide and 13 feet long.
The idea for traveling-wave reactors has been around for decades but was mothballed amid waning U.S. interest in nuclear power. Then came a boost in the 1990s from a research paper by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, including Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb and the brain behind Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars missile-defense initiative; and an acolyte of Mr. Teller’s named Lowell Wood.
Mr. Gates got the project rolling with seed money in the tens of millions of dollars. Venture-capital firms Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures invested $35 million last year. Nuclear-industry veteran John Gilleland is TerraPower’s chief executive; a network of part-time researchers and scientists around the country offer input.
They have made pitches in France and Japan,and made the rounds in Russia, China and India. So far, there have been no takers. They are not looking at the US because itwould likely be a decade or more before the reactor could be tested on U.S. soil.