Greenhouse emissions: NONE
Toxic waste: NONE
Human Interaction: next to NONE
TerraPower, a little known company in Bellevue, WA, has developed a nuclear reactor that literally runs on the nuclear waste that other nuclear plants throw away. The Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR), as it is known, isn’t even a new concept. It was first envisioned in 1958 by Saveli Feinberg as a reactor that could essentially create its own fuel.
CREATES IT’S OWN FUEL.
How does a nuclear reactor create its own fuel?
Despite many hours of research, I am admittedly not a nuclear physicist yet, imagine a heating stove designed to burn wood. Dry wood burns hot and fast creating a very consistent heat to fuel ratio. Now take that same stove and burn wet, green wood in it. You get a similar heat to fuel ratio, but the fuel lasts longer because the fire is drying the wood as it burns. Like a BBQ smoker versus a charcoal grill, the TWR breeds its own fuel as it operates. In fact, TerraPower claims it can get 50 times more energy per pound of mined uranium than a conventional light water reactor.
Before you even get the old “Nuclear Power is Unsafe” banners down off the shelf, TerraPower has that covered too. The TWR is a sodium-cooled reactor that is submerged in coolant. There are no pumps to generate pressure that could potentially fail, therefore no wastewater; only a giant pool of sodium solution.
Once again, this isn’t a new concept. The first sodium cooled “fast” reactor was developed in the 1950s, under Admiral H.G. Rickover, and was put into use in the USS Seawolf, one of the first nuclear subs in the US fleet. The sub was eventually decommissioned because of concerns with the sodium cooling system, but the theory was sound. Take out the problem of containing and pumping the sodium solution by, you guessed it, building a reactor in a pool of it, and the problem is solved. You’d essentially have a reactor that cools itself and breeds its own fuel.
Although a product that claims it can power every home in the US for 100 plus years on the nuclear waste that already exists seems too good to be true, experts agree that the theory is more than feasible…
Take for instance Bill Gates, one of TerraPower’s board chairmen and investors, who left Microsoft in 2000 to continue his career as a philanthropist. In 2008, he teamed up with fellow Microsoft billionaire and visionary, Nathan Myhrvold, with the idea of addressing the world’s growing power needs. Gates and Myhrvold assembled a team of scientists, and after years of research they chose the TWR as their flagship solution.