TerraPower, a nuclear energy technology company, was formally established in 2008 as Intellectual Venture’s first spinout company. Its origins began with Bill Gates and a group of like-minded visionaries who evaluated the fundamental challenges to raising living standards around the world.
TerraPower’s sodium-cooled traveling wave reactor (TWR) re-imagines nuclear technology, bringing enormous cost savings, highly enhanced safety, greatly reduced toxic waste, greater ease in waste disposal and a high level of weapons proliferation resistance. The TWR can provide access to reliable electricity in the areas of the world that need it most, stimulating economic development and improving global health while reducing overall environmental impacts.
As early as 1958, Saveli Feinberg dreamed of a self-fueling nuclear reactor; over the years, researchers periodically studied the idea. TerraPower’s leadership became the first to consider the practical engineering details of how to make a breed-and-burn TWR a reality. Leveraging 21st-century computational and modeling tools, the effort developed into an independent company with a sound path leading from this technology’s conceptual design to commercial plants.
The key innovations in the TWR are advancements in fuel, materials and engineering, which allow TWRs to use fuel much more efficiently and over a longer period of time. These innovations will allow TWRs to utilize depleted uranium (DU), rather than enriched uranium, as their primary fuel. By using inexpensive DU, the TWR will produce its own fissionable fuel capable of sustaining a fission chain reaction for decades. This greater fuel utilization will allow TWRs to load enough fuel up-front to last for up to 40 years, compared to today’s reactors that must replace and store fuel assemblies every 18 to 24 months. The TWR will also store used assemblies inside the core, obviating the need for external storage, transportation and disposal. These capabilities offer the highest barriers to weapons proliferation, and enable enormous economic and environmental benefits.
IV Lab has supported research for TerraPower’s TWR since it’s inception. Currently, the Lab’s Instrument Shop plays an important role in in the company’s materials testing program.