TerraPower, with Bill Gates as its chairman, has joined hands with China's nuclear power firm CNNC in developing traveling wave reactor, a fourth-generation nuclear-fission technology, aiming to forge a prototype reactor by 2020 to facilitate its early commercialization.
Traveling wave reactor features small modularization technology, with production cost much lower than traditional nuclear reactors. Different from third-generation light-water reactor (LWR) which employs enriched uranium as fuel, traveling wave reactor only needs depleted uranium found in nuclear waste and can even recycle its own nuclear waste for use. According to data, only 20-35% of waste from nuclear fuel cannot be recycled for reuse, due to nuclear fission.
TerraPower noted that traveling wave reactor only needs eight tons of depleted uranium a year for generating power sufficient to meet the needs of 2.5 million households, adding that the U.S. has 700,000 metric tons of depleted uranium in hand now.
With the technology, there is no need to remove used nuclear fuel for follow-up processing, greatly diminishing the problems of nuclear proliferation and nuclear-waste safety, on top of lowering total production cost. It is, therefore, environment-friendly.
Now in the stage of R&D, the new reactor's power output is still a far cry from that of LWR, which typically tops 1 million KW, but the R&D effort has been progressing smoothly, thanks to support from both government and private sectors.
TerraPower is conducting computer-aided simulation of the operation of traveling wave reactor and analyzing the generated data with seismic, physical, and mechanical methods, in the hope of forging the prototype within a short time.
Founded in 2006 by Bill Gates for dedication to new-generation nuclear technology, TerraPower has been developing traveling wave reactor and molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR), in the hope of providing sustainable, safe, and cost-effective energy. It formed a joint venture with CNNC in Nov. 2017, planning to design and build multiple fourth-generation nuclear power plants, with the goal of generating 1,150 MW power with traveling wave reactors within 20 years.
Many other countries have also been conducting R&D on fourth-generation nuclear power energy, such as ANSTO of Australia which joined the GIF (Generation IV International Forum," for advocacy of the next-generation nuclear energy systems, in Sept. 2017. Lyndon Edwards, national director of Australian Generation IV Research at ANSTO, pointed out that given its minimal amount of generated nuclear waste, traveling wave reactor has the potential of becoming a game-changing energy.
(Written by Daisy Chuang; photo courtesy of TerraPower)