Gates is expected to use his personal funding and assets to back the development of TWRs and his investment could reach several billion dollars

 - By Stephen Heiser -

TerraPower, an energy start-up backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates is in discussions with Toshiba on developing a small nuclear reactor.  Toshiba owns Westinghouse Nuclear and brings considerable assets and experience to any nuclear joint venture.  TerraPower is a unit of Intellectual Ventures, a patent-holding concern partially funded by Bill Gates. Intellectual Ventures, based in Bellevue, Washington, is run by a former Microsoft Corp. executive, Nathan Myhrvold.

The Wall Street Journal said that the venture could "represent a long-term bet to make nuclear power safer and cheaper."

Small nukes have become a hot commodity these days with designs being developed by the Babcock & Wilcox Company (B&W) and Corvallis, Oregon's NuScale Power. Unlike the current reactors at large power plants, the smaller types could be introduced by cities or states or in developing countries more easily.

B&W plans to deploy the B&W mPower reactor - a scalable, modular, passively safe, advanced light water reactor system.  The B&W mPower reactor, with its scalable, modular design, has the capacity to provide 125 MWe to 750 MWe or more for a five-year operating cycle without refueling, and is designed to produce clean, near-zero emission operations.  A newly formed entity, B&W Modular Nuclear Energy, LLC, will lead the development, licensing and delivery of B&W mPower reactor projects.

NuScale Power has developed a small nuclear power system that is safe, modular and scalable.  The technology was borne of research by leading nuclear scientists with the support of the U.S. government. The design of the NuScale power plant builds on hundreds of combined years of operating experience with commercial light water reactors along with extensive research and laboratory testing of advanced safety systems.

The Nikkei business daily earlier reported that Toshiba and TerraPower would team up to develop a small reactor that can operate for up to 100 years without refueling to provide emission-free energy.  The daily said the joint development would focus on the Traveling-Wave Reactor (TWR), which consumes depleted uranium as fuel. Current light-water reactors require refueling every few years.

"Toshiba has entered into preliminary talks with TerraPower," said Toshiba spokesman Keisuke Ohmori. "We are looking into the possibility of working together."

Ohmori said Gates, together with other TerraPower executives, had visited a Toshiba laboratory for nuclear power research near Tokyo last year.

"TerraPower is developing a small nuclear reactor and Toshiba is developing a different kind of small reactor. They were interested in Toshiba's technology and aiming at practical realisation" of small reactors, he said.

Ohmori said the two companies had just begun to "exchange information" but stressed that "nothing concrete has been decided on development or investment."

Gates is expected to use his personal wealth to back the development of TWRs and his investment could reach several billion dollars, the Nikkei said.

The Nikkei said TerraPower had decided to join hands with Toshiba as it lacks the know-how to manufacture nuclear power equipment.

Toshiba, which owns US nuclear plant maker Westinghouse, has developed a design for an ultracompact reactor that can operate continuously for 30 years.

The company is preparing to apply for U.S. approval to start constructing the first such reactor as early as 2014 and put it into practical use by the end of the decade, Ohmori said.

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