Bill Gate’s efforts to close a deal with China National Nuclear Corp. have finally paid off. The company has inked a deal to build a first-of-a-kind unit of their sodium cooled fast reactor in China and then manufacture a commercial version of it.
Zhimin Qian, President of China National Nuclear Corp. signed the deal with Lee McIntire, CEO of TerraPower at a U.S. Trade and Investment Cooperation Conference held in Seattle on September 22.
Zhimin Qian, President of China National Nuclear Corp, left, shakes hands with Lee McIntire, CEO of TerraPower, following a signing ceremony linking the two organizations at a U.S. Trade and Investment Cooperation Conference Tuesday. Elaine Thompson AP
TerraPower’s traveling wave reactor (TWR) is designed to be a 1150 megawatt-electric liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel. It will greatly simplify the current nuclear fuel cycle by reducing the need for uranium mining, enrichment facilities, reprocessing plants and storage facilities. This will result in enormous cost savings, highly enhanced safety, greatly reduced toxic waste, greater ease in waste disposal and a high level of weapons proliferation resistance
TerraPower’s sodium-cooled TWR will improve resource utilization many times over from existing nuclear reactors which can only burn less than fi ve percent of their uranium fuel. The key innovations in the TWR are advancements in fuel, materials and engineering, which allow TWRs to use fuel much more effi ciently and over a longer period of time.
These innovations will allow TWRs to utilize depleted uranium (DU), rather than enriched uranium, as their primary fuel. By using inexpensive DU, the TWR will produce its own fissionable fuel capable of sustaining a fi ssion chain reaction for decades. The greater utilization of fuel will allow TWRs to load enough fuel up-front to last for up to 40 years. Contrast that against current reactors that must replace and store fuel assemblies every 18 to 24 months. The TWR stores used assemblies inside the core, obviating the need for external storage, transportation and disposal.
The first TWR will demonstrate key plant equipment, qualify the fuel and materials for longer term use, and provide the technical, licensing and economic basis for commercial TWRs. This prototype is expected to be constructed between 2018 and 2023. After a suitable period of testing and optimization, commercial plants are expected to be licensed with start up in the late 2020s or early 2030s. This will be 10 to 20 years earlier than other Generation IV technologies