Bill Gates’ nuclear firm TerraPower and the China National Nuclear Corporation have signed an agreement to develop a world-first nuclear reactor, using other nuclear reactors’ waste
TerraPower chairman Bill Gates and Chinese premier Li Keqiang signed a joint venture agreement to create the Global Innovation Nuclear Energy Technology company, which will build a Travelling Wave Reactor and commercialise the technology.
This joint venture aims to design and construct multiple nuclear power plants generating around 1150 megawatts over the next two decades which utilise this fourth generation nuclear technology.
It expands a joint technology agreement between the two businesses signed in 2015.
“This is a pioneering work in China-U.S. high-tech cooperation, which is on a voluntary basis. This shows the open attitudes of both sides,”: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo: AP
Fourth generation Travelling Wave Reactors would differ from third generation, more traditional light water nuclear reactors, as they would not require enriched uranium to generate energy, and could instead use waste uranium
Travelling Wave Reactors would require less fuel per kilowatt-hour of electricity than light-water reactors, due to TWRs higher fuel burn, energy density, and thermal efficiency.
It is also safer as spent fuels, such as depleted uranium, from other reactor types could be recycled without separating out plutonium, and could operate without refuelling for up to 40 years.
TerraPower states that the US currently holds approximately 700,000 tonnes of depleted uranium, and the reactor would only need eight tonnes of this material to power 2.5 million homes for a year.
They could also recycle their own fuel, with only 20 to 35 per cent of the fuel rendered unusable by the fission process.
Australia recently joined an international group focused on fourth generation nuclear technology.
The new joint venture will explore next generation nuclear technology. Photo: AP
In September, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation was welcomed into the Generation IV International Forum Framework agreement, which aims to develop next-generation nuclear power systems, and which ANSTO calls “a potential game-changer in global energy creation”.
Commenting on the technology, ANSTO national director of Australian generation IV research, Professor Lyndon Edwards, called it an interesting potential energy source that has fewer nuclear waste issues.
“The Travelling Wave Reactor would have the potential to use less nuclear fuel and produce less nuclear waste than the light water reactors that dominate today’s nuclear fleet.” –ANSTO national director of Australian generation IV research, Professor Lyndon Edwards
“The Travelling Wave Reactor concept is for a novel, fast neutron spectrum reactor that would use in-situ breeding of its nuclear fuel (essentially, the creation of the fuel within the reactor) to substantially reduce the need for both uranium enrichment and subsequent fuel reprocessing,” Professor Edwards told Fairfax Media.
“The reactor could be fuelled with natural uranium, depleted uranium or even spent nuclear fuel (which is mainly depleted uranium), but the reactor must be started with enriched uranium. Thus, the Travelling Wave Reactor would have the potential to use less nuclear fuel and produce less nuclear waste than the light water reactors that dominate today’s nuclear fleet,” he said.
“Although the Travelling Wave Reactor is not a reactor type being investigated by the Generation IV International Forum, its most mature design produced by TerraPower, is based on Sodium Fast Reactor (SFR) technology.
“That said, while there is significant experience worldwide in building and operating sodium fast reactors, the operating environment within a Travelling Wave Reactor would present significant challenges to both presently available nuclear materials and manufacturing. Significant further research and development is therefore necessary before commercial Travelling Wave Reactors can become a reality.”
Mr Li welcomed the new nuclear partnership between Mr Gates’ TerraPower and CNNC, calling for closer cooperation between the US and China to develop next-generation nuclear technology, Chinese-government news source Xinhua reports.
“This is a pioneering work in China-U.S. high-tech cooperation, which is on a voluntary basis. This shows the open attitudes of both sides,” Mr Li said
“We wish to further international cooperation and achieve technological breakthroughs by developing China’s advantage in rich resources in talent and using internet-based platforms,” he said.
By Cole Latimer