Bill Gates may finally have found a partner to help develop the TerraPower traveling wave reactor.On Wednesday the Microsoft founder and philanthropist confirmed earlier reports that TerraPower is working with the China National Nuclear Corporation to develop the technology. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation quoted him as saying that as much as a billion dollars may be dedicated to researching the design over the next five years. Since the company’s founding in 2008, TerraPower has sought a country that allows plutonium-producing breeder reactors to help develop the project, pitching the breed-and-burn concept in Russia, India, France and Japan. If an agreement with Chinese officials comes through, it would be a major step toward building an actual prototype.
The concept of a traveling wave reactor has been around since the 1950s, but only recently have nuclear scientists had the computing power to run models demonstrating that it would work. Instead of traditional fuel rods, a small amount of enriched uranium would begin a chain reaction at the end of a cylinder of depleted uranium or spent light water reactor fuel. Neutron capture in the depleted uranium would create plutonium, which itself would fission, sustaining the reaction, producing heat and breeding yet more fuel in a slow “wave” through the core that, theoretically, could produce uninterrupted power for more than 60 years.While Gates emphasized the technology’s potential safety margin, cost savings and waste management advantages, he cautioned that talks with the CNNC were at an early stage. But, should research progress as TerraPower hopes, the result could be a reactor design that eliminates refueling outages and keeps waste within the reactor until it is decommissioned entirely. Further, Gates said in a talk last year, there is enough depleted uranium left over from enrichment activities in Paducah, Ky., alone to power the U.S. for centuries.
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Listen closely to the narrator at about the 40 second mark. He almost chokes up as he struggles to avoid saying the word that cannot be mentioned - plutonium. Why is is so hard for nuclear advocates to recognize that our materials have been irrationally demonized by people who do not want our technology to succeed. There are at least three different types of people who have tried mightily to make the world shudder at the word "plutonium" - people who fear the bomb, people who fear the competition from breeder reactors (both uranium miners and fossil fuel folks) and people who prefer thorium reactors.
Plutonium is wonderful fuel. It has a name. Why be afraid to use it? (BTW, never let anyone tell you that the material's namesake is the devil - it is the rock formerly known as the planet "Pluto" that comes right after Neptune which comes right after Uranus.)
You have to wonder how it is that the stupid ideas get the attention. Although a traveling wave reactor (TWR) would be great for a personal yacht, only an idiot would back it for base load energy as compared to the molten salt reactor (MSR). A back of a napkin analysis can show that an MSR would be multiple times less expensive and less problematic. I guess I could understand if there was a close comparison between the advantages of each design but there isn't. The MSR is hands down, the only reactor that deserves to be built.