|Headquarters||Bellevue, Washington, USA|
|Lee McIntire, CEO|
|Products||Traveling wave reactor|
TerraPower is a nuclear reactor design company headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, in the United States. TerraPower is a class of nuclear fast reactors called the traveling wave reactor (TWR). TerraPower is partly funded by Los Alamos National Laboratory. Unlike standard light water reactors such as PWRs or BWRs that operate by using enriched uranium as fuel, TWR uses depleted uranium instead, with an estimated operation period from 40 to 60 years. The byproduct of the Uranium-235 fission can be re-used for other TWR reactors.
Traveling wave reactor
TerraPower has chosen TWRs as its primary technology. The major benefit of such reactors is high fuel utilization in a manner that does not require reprocessing and could eventually eliminate the need to enrich uranium. 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 expense and proliferation-risk of enrichment and reprocessing plants typically required to get them. Enough fuel for between 40 and 60 years of operation could be in the reactor from the beginning. The reactor could be buried below ground, where it could run for an estimated 100 years.
TerraPower plans to have a TWR prototype built by 2020 producing electricity for the grid in the several-hundred megawatt capacity range.
By using depleted uranium as fuel, the new reactor type could reduce stockpiles from uranium enrichment. TerraPower notes that the US hosts 700,000 metric tons of depleted uranium and that 8 metric tons could power 2.5 million homes for a year. Some reports claim 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 US per capita consumption levels for million-year time-scales.
Research and development
The TWR design is still in the research and development phase. The company has no governmental contract for the TWR's construction or operation. The conceptual framework of the TWR operations was simulated by supercomputers with an empirical evidence for theoretical feasibility. As of 2015 TerraPower was seeking a country willing to host the experimental reactor. US regulators postponed the construction of the experimental reactor for a decade over extended documentation for its certification process. On November 6, 2009, TerraPower executives and major investor Bill Gates visited Toshiba's Yokohama and Keihin Factories in Japan, and concluded a non-disclosure agreement with them on December 1. Toshiba had already developed an ultracompact reactor, the 4S, that can operate continuously for 30 years without fuel handling and generates 10 megawatts. Some of the technologies used in 4S are considered to be transferable to TWRs.
One of TerraPower's primary investors is Bill Gates. Others include Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures, who reportedly invested $35 million in 2010. TerraPower is led by chief executive officer Lee McIntire. 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. The TerraPower team includes 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.
Company objectives include:
- 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.
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- TerraPower Team Bios, www.TerraPower.com
- The TerraPower Initiative, berkeley.edu