Travelling wave reactors (TWRs), molten salt reactors (MSRs) and isotopes for cancer research: Since 2006, the US company TerraPower has been at the forefront of promoting nuclear energy and the use of radionuclides in therapy. Its primary sponsor and co-founder is multi-billionaire and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Gates, who, like Warren Buffett and many others, has never made a secret of his support for controversial nuclear power, is now backing it again. Together with the South Korean investor SK Innovation, a whopping 750 million dollars is being invested in TerraPower. Gates is putting up half a billion, and SK is providing 250 million. As recently as June, Gates announced that he plans to spend nearly all of his fortune to fight the great problems of our time.
“TerraPower is committed to solving some of this generation’s toughest challenges through innovation” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s president and CEO. “Whether it’s addressing climate change with CO2-free advanced nuclear energy or fighting cancer with nuclear isotopes, our team is deploying technology solutions and investors around the world are taking note“.
Substitute for coal-fired power stations
So, similar to a number of other scale-ups working on nuclear power, TerraPower sees nuclear power as an essential tool in reducing CO2 – and thus as a replacement for coal and gas-fired power plants. SK Innovation started in petroleum processing in 1962 and has been intensively searching for solutions in the field of CCS (Carbon Capture & Storage) for quite some time.
TerraPower’s most important client is the U.S. Department of Energy, with which it operates the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The U.S. government is supporting the construction of a sodium reactor in the state of Wyoming with up to $2 billion. The fresh investment will primarily advance this program, as TerraPower must provide the second half of the development funds.
TerraPower’s molten salt reactor in Wyoming is being built on the site of a former coal-fired power station and is designed to help the “coal state” decarbonize. In the EU, too, modern-design nuclear reactors are now being labeled as “green” investments. As a result, the company might find new business throughout Europe as well.
Even though molten salt reactors can also use thorium, which is seen by many as a promising fuel for the future – uranium is also produced in the process, which, like irradiated components of the reactor, will have to be disposed of at some point – and there is still no adequate solution for this.