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TerraPower, LLC
IndustryNuclear power
FounderBill Gates
United States
Key people
Bill Gates
Chris Levesque
(President & CEO)
ProductsTraveling wave reactor

TerraPower is an American nuclear reactor design and development engineering company headquartered in Bellevue, Washington. TerraPower is developing a class of nuclear fast reactors called the traveling wave reactor (TWR).[1]

The TWR concept places a small core of enriched fuel in the center of a much larger mass of non-fissile material, in this case depleted uranium. Neutrons from fission in the core "breeds" new fissile material in the surrounding mass, producing Pu-239. Over time, enough fuel is bred in the area surrounding the core that it begins to undergo fission as well, sending neutrons further into the mass and continuing the process while the original core burns out. Over a period of decades, the reaction moves from the core of the reactor to the outside, thus giving the name "travelling wave".

In September 2015, TerraPower signed an agreement with the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation to build a prototype 600 MWe reactor unit at Xiapu in Fujian province, China from 2018 to 2025.[2] Commercial power plants, generating about 1150 MWe, were planned for the late 2020s.[3] However, in January 2019 it was announced that the project had been abandoned due to technology transfer limitations placed by the Trump administration.[4]

In October 2020, the company was chosen by the United States Department of Energy as a recipient of a matching grant totaling between $400 million and $4 billion over the next 5 to 7 years for the cost of building a demonstration reactor of their "Natrium" design, which uses liquid sodium as a core coolant (this reduces the cost by having a non-pressurized primary loop). It then transfers that heat to molten salt which can be stored in tanks and used to generate steam for electricity production on demand, enabling the reactor to run continuously at constant power while allowing the electricity generation from the power station to be dispatchable.[5]


TerraPower is partly funded by the US Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory.[6] One of TerraPower's primary investors is Bill Gates (via Cascade Investment). Others include Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures, who reportedly invested $35 million in 2010. TerraPower is led by chief executive officer Chris Levesque. 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. Other TerraPower participants include[7] scientists and engineers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Fast Flux Test Facility, Microsoft, and various universities, as well as managers from Siemens A.G., Areva NP, the ITER project, Ango Systems Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Company objectives include:[8]

  • 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.


Traveling wave reactor[edit]

TerraPower has chosen traveling wave reactors (TWRs) as its primary technology. The major benefit of such reactors is high fuel utilization in a manner that does not require nuclear reprocessing and could eventually eliminate the need to enrich uranium.[9] TWRs are designed to convert typically non-fissile 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, as an integrated breeder reactor. 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.[10] TerraPower described the concept of its main reactor design as a "Generation IV, liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor".[11]

Environmental effects[edit]

By using depleted uranium as fuel, the new reactor type could reduce stockpiles from uranium enrichment.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

Research and development[edit]

The TWR design is still in the research and development phase. The conceptual framework of the TWR operations was simulated by supercomputers with an empirical evidence for theoretical feasibility. US regulators postponed the construction of the experimental reactor for a decade over extended documentation for its certification process.[10] 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.[15][16][17] Toshiba had already developed an ultracompact reactor, the 4S, that can operate continuously for 30 years without fuel handling and generates 10 megawatts.[17][18][19] Some of the technologies used in 4S are considered to be transferable to TWRs.[16]

Molten salt[edit]

As of October 2015, the company is also investigating a molten salt reactor design with Southern Company as an alternative technology.[20][21]

Sodium fast reactor (Natrium)[edit]

Natrium combines a molten sodium reactor with a 1GWh molten salt energy storage system. Sodium offers a 785-Kelvin temperature range between its solid and gaseous states, nearly 8x that of water's 100-Kelvin range. Without requiring pressurization, which increases risk and cost, sodium can absorb large amounts of heat. As an element rather than a compound, it is not at risk of disassociating at high temperature as water does. Sodium is also non-corrosive. Natrium is fueled by High-Assay, Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) as its fuel. HALEU is enriched to contain between 5 and 20 percent uranium, which can be produced from spent fuel from other nuclear power plants. Plant sites are expected to be smaller and 4x more efficient than conventional plants. Natrium control rods descend using only gravity in case of plant failure. Power output is a constant 345 MWe as heat. The plant is designed to run at 100 percent output, 24/7. The storage system is designed to work in tandem with intermittent energy sources, responding to their spikes and crashes. It can produce 150% of the rated power output, or 500 MWe for 5.5 hours.[22]

In June 2021, TerraPower and PacifiCorp (of Warren Buffett) announced plans to build a joint Natrium reactor.[23] Four cities in Wyoming impacted by closure of fossil-fuel power plants are under consideration for the demonstration reactor: Gillette, Kemmerer, Glenrock and Rock Springs, Wyoming.[24] PacificCorp does business in Wyoming as Rocky Mountain Power and has a coal power plant in each of the candidate locations.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ RIL buys stake in US's Terra Power , www.moneycontrol.com
  2. ^ "Fast Neutron Reactors". World Nuclear Association. September 2016.
  3. ^ "TerraPower, CNNC team up on travelling wave reactor". World Nuclear News. 25 September 2015.
  4. ^ Xuewan, Chen; Yelin, Mo; Tan, Jason; Ziwei, Tao (5 January 2019). "Nuclear Power Trial in China Will 'Not Proceed'". Caixin.
  5. ^ Cho, Adrian (2020-10-16). "Department of Energy picks two advanced nuclear reactors for demonstration projects". Science. Retrieved 2020-10-20. DOE will split the total cost of building each plant with private industry. Each project receives $80 million this year and could receive a total of between $400 million and $4 billion in funding over the next 5 to 7 years. ... Instead of water, the 345 megawatt Natrium reactor from TerraPower, Inc., and GE Hitachi would use molten sodium metal as a coolant. Because sodium has a much higher boiling temperature than water, the coolant would not have to be pressurized, reducing the plant’s complexity and cost. The sodium would transfer its heat to molten salt, which could then flow directly to a steam generator or to a storage tank, to be held to generate steam and electricity later. ... Because Natrium sodium coolant is unpressurized, the reactor requires a smaller containment structure than a conventional reactor. The plant also “decouples” the reactor and the electricity generating portions of the facility, which sit on opposite sides of the storage tanks.
  6. ^ Delacruz, Vanessa (August 2012). "Fiscal Year 2012 Institutional Commitments Midyear Progress Report". Energy Citation Database: 1–37. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  7. ^ TerraPower Team Bios, www.TerraPower.com
  8. ^ The TerraPower Initiative Archived 2009-07-31 at the Wayback Machine, berkeley.edu
  9. ^ Wald, Matthew L. (2009-02-24). "TR10: Traveling-Wave Reactor". Technology Review. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  10. ^ a b Gurth, Robert (February 27, 2011). "A Window Into the Nuclear Future". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  11. ^ "The Design". TerraPower. Retrieved 2016-12-23.
  12. ^ Michal, Rick; Michael Blake (April 2010). "The nuclear news interview. John Gilleland. On the traveling-wave reactor". Internationale Zeitschrift für Kernenergie. 41 (25): 249–252. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Depleted Uranium as Fuel Cuts Path to Less Waste". Intellectual Ventures Management, LLC. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Bill Gates, Toshiba in early talks on nuclear reactor, Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2010
  16. ^ a b "ゲイツ、原発挑戦の真相". The Nikkei. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  17. ^ a b "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. Archived from the original on 2010-03-26. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  18. ^ "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]
  19. ^ "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. Archived from the original on March 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  20. ^ "Southern Company and TerraPower Prep for Testing on Molten Salt Reactor". Department of Energy.
  21. ^ Martin, Richard (2015-10-21). "TerraPower Quietly Explores New Nuclear Reactor Strategy". Technology Review. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  22. ^ Blain, Loz (2021-03-09). "Bill Gates's next-gen nuclear plant packs in grid-scale energy storage". New Atlas. Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  23. ^ Reuters (2021-06-03). "Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to build new kind of nuclear reactor in Wyoming". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021-06-03.
  24. ^ "Will Wyoming Embrace Nuclear Power?". Nuclear Street. June 9, 2021. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  25. ^ Greg Johnson (June 2, 2021). "Wyoming to be home to 'game-changing' nuclear power plant". Gillette News Record. Retrieved June 10, 2021. In cooperation with PacifiCorp and Rocky Mountain Power, the nuclear reactor will replace a Wyoming coal-fired plant upon retirement. A specific location hasn’t been determined, but it will be at one of our of Rocky Mountain Power's plants in Wyoming: the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs, the Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock, the Naughton plant at Kemmerer or the Wyodak plant near Gillette.

External links[edit]