New nuclear technology: It’s far out!

Source: Terrapower

It’s nice to have something in common with Bill Gates. Both of us gave TED speeches — in fact a video of his recent speech on energy was shown just before I climbed up on the stage to give my TEDx presentation on how chemical engineers are leading a renaissance in U.S. manufacture — in the energy and petrochemical area. Gates has a number of ideas on promising new energy technologies. One of these, in particular, captured my attention.

Terrapower, a company born in a think tank, Intellectual Ventures, founded by Gates and his original Chief TechnologyOfficer Nathan Myhrvold, is developing a nuclear reactor “that powers itslef from its own waste”. It is initially energized by enriched uranium and then utilizes the depleted byproduct of the fission process to produce more power. Molten sodium is used as a coolant, which then generates steam to drive turbines that produce electric power. It can allegedly go 60 years or more without refueling and can use spent nuclear waste from plants using light water reactors(LWR)! It has been characterized as “a

Source: Terrapower

travelling wave” reactor because the fissionable material moves slowly from one side of the core to the other as it is spent.

Source: Terrapower

All of this sounds very appealing. However, commercialization is 10-15 years away, according to sources. So far, the physics has only been tested in computer simulations.

Terrapower’s CEO John Gilleland was chief scientist and vice president of energy programs at Bechtel and U.S. managing director ofthe International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor program for fusion energy. The firm has received DOE money, but is largely funded by Gates and Myhrvold.

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