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TerraPower, LLC
Industry Nuclear Power
Headquarters Bellevue, Washington, USA
Key people
John Gilleland, CEO
Products Traveling wave reactor

TerraPower is a nuclear reactor design spin-off company of Intellectual Ventures that is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, in the United States. TerraPower is investigating a class of nuclear fast reactors called the traveling wave reactor (TWR). One of TerraPower's primary investors is Bill Gates.[1] Gates' investment is reportedly in the tens of millions of dollars. Other key investors are Venture-capital firms Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures, who reportedly invested $35 million in 2010.[2] TerraPower is led by chief executive officer, John Gilleland, a member of the American Nuclear Society.[3] In December 2011 India's Reliance Industries bought a minority stake through one of its subsidiaries. Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani will join the company's board.[4] TerraPower also works with Los Alamos National Laboratory who hopes this partnership will help strengthen and expand their science and energy programs.[5]

Whereas standard light water reactors such as PWRs or BWRs running worldwide use enriched uranium as fuel and need fuel reloads every few years, TWRs, once started, use depleted uranium instead and are considered to be able to operate for between 40 to 60 years without fuel reloading.


Objectives of the company include:[6]

  • Exploring significant improvements to nuclear power using 21st century technologies, state-of-the-art computational capabilities, and expanded data.
  • Evaluating the impact of new concepts on the entire fuel cycle, from mining to spent fuel disposal.
  • Pursuing an independent, privately funded path.


The TerraPower team includes[7] scientists and engineers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Fast Flux Test Facility, Microsoft, and various universities, as well as management with experience at Siemens A.G., Areva NP, the ITER project, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Traveling wave reactor[edit]

TerraPower has chosen TWRs as a technology for further development. The major benefits of these reactors are that they can get high fuel utilization (enhancing sustainability) in a manner that does not require reprocessing and could eventually eliminate the need to enrich uranium.[8] TWRs are designed to convert typically unusable fertile nuclides such as U-238 into fissile nuclides like Pu-239 in-situ and then shift the power from the highly burned region to the freshly bred region. This allows the benefits of a closed fuel cycle without the expensive and proliferation-sensitive enrichment and reprocessing plants typically required to get them. All the fuel required for between 40 to 60 years of operation could be in the reactor from the beginning. Executives at TerraPower say their reactor could even be buried below ground, where it could run for an estimated 100 years.[2]

TerraPower plans to have a TWR prototype built by 2020 producing electricity for the grid in the several-hundred megawatt capacity range.[9]

Environmental and social benefits[edit]

The new reactors could reduce the amount of nuclear waste by using existing stockpiles of depleted uranium as fuel. "By extracting centuries' worth of energy from waste at enrichment plants, these reactors would turn a social and financial liability into an asset," said Gilleland.[3] TerraPower says there are 700 000 metric tons of spent fuel in the U.S. alone, and 8 metric tons could power 2.5 million homes for a year.[10]

Some reports say that the high fuel efficiency of TWRs, combined with the ability to use uranium recovered from river or sea water, means enough fuel is available to generate electricity for 10 billion people at U.S. per capita levels for million-year time-scales.[11]

International outreach[edit]

The TWR design is still in the research and development phase. Accordingly, the TerraPower management team is meeting with a variety of U.S. and international research, supply, and manufacturing organizations to discuss options for its deployment. The company has no agreements for the TWR's construction or operation at this time.

Currently, the TWR is solely a virtual endeavor. TerraPower is looking for a country that is willing to house an experimental reactor. The company has pitched to Russia, Japan, France, China, and India but has had no success. The U.S. will not be hosting an experimental reactor for a decade or more from now because they do not yet have a certification process for reactors like TerraPower's.[2]

On November 6, 2009, Bill Gates and TerraPower executives visited Toshiba's Yokohama and Keihin Factories in Japan, and concluded a non-disclosure agreement with them on December 1.[12][13][14][14] Toshiba already developed an ultracompact reactor, the 4S, that can operate continuously for 30 years without fuel handlings and generates 10 megawatts.[14][15][16] Some of the technologies used in 4S are considered to be transferable to TWRs.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bill Gates. Innovating to zero!. TED. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  2. ^ a b c Gurth, Robert (February 27, 2011). "A Window Into the Nuclear Future". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Michal, Rick; Michael Blake (April 2010). "The nuclear news interview. John Gilleland. On the traveling-wave reactor". Internationale Zeitschrift fuer Kernenergie 41 (25): 249–252. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  4. ^ RIL buys stake in US's Terra Power , www.moneycontrol.com
  5. ^ Delacruz, Vanessa (August 2012). "Fiscal Year 2012 Institutional Commitments Midyear Progress Report". Energy Citation Database: 1–37. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  6. ^ The TerraPower Initiative, berkeley.edu
  7. ^ TerraPower Team Bios, www.TerraPower.com
  8. ^ John Gilleland. "TR10: Traveling-Wave Reactor". Technology Review. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  9. ^ John Gilleland. "Bill Gates’s Nuclear Miracle? John Gilleland Says TerraPower Needs Discipline, Not Divine Intervention". Xconomy. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  10. ^ "Depleted Uranium as Fuel Cuts Path to Less Waste". Intellectual Ventures Management, LLC. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Ellis, T.; R. Petroski (2010). "Traveling-wave reactors: A truly sustainable and full-scale resource for global energy needs". American Nuclear Society 42 (44): 546–558. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Bill Gates, Toshiba in early talks on nuclear reactor, Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2010
  13. ^ a b "ゲイツ、原発挑戦の真相". The Nikkei. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  14. ^ a b c "東芝、ゲイツ氏と次世代原発開発へ 維持コスト管理を低減". The Sankei Simbun. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  15. ^ "次世代原子炉:100年連続運転の開発、ゲイツ氏が東芝とタッグ 私財数千億円投じ". Mainichi Newspapers. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-03-24. [dead link]
  16. ^ "ゲイツ氏と東芝、原発開発でタッグ? 米企業が協力要請". The Asahi Simbun. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2010-03-24. [dead link]

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