After Japan’s tsunami, much of the positive light shed on nuclear energy since Chernobyl has vanished. It is likely hard to find many people with confidence in the safety of nuclear energy these days. Concerns ranging from waste, to meltdowns, to terrorist attacks have nuclear power on par with apocalypse and while those concerns are blown wildly out of proportion, they are still valid. Nuclear power has gotten a bad rap over the years, but a rebirth is on its way.
In comes TerraPower. The company’s mission to develop a sustainable and economic nuclear energy system while greatly reducing proliferation risks and creating new options for converting low-level waste into vast energy resources, puts the company in a world that many would deem as science fiction. Their new technology is still in development, but boasts the ability to turn nuclear waste (depleted uranium) into vast sources of power. TerraPower projects their traveling wave reactor (TWR) to turn an 8-metric-ton canister of depleted uranium into 25 million megawatt-hours. That is enough power for 2.5 million households for an entire year. Have a list to Nathan Myrhvold on Freakonomics Radio:
With reactors already in the works and a plan to deploy the first reactor by 2020, this could mean a nearly unlimited and clean source of energy for the United States and the world as we currently have approximately 700,000 metric tons stored at a facilities in 3 different states in the US alone. According to TerraPower, just 38,000 cylinders of existing waste would produce roughly $100 trillion of electricity. The system is planned to be inherently safe, operating on the laws of nature as opposed to engineered forces like the current nuclear power plants in use.
TerraPower was born from Intellectual Ventures, a company led by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer for Microsoft. And yes, Bill Gates is involved as well. Gates did a TED talk about “Innovating to Zero!” in 2010, where he mentioned the TWR technology. The first prototype of the commercial version of the reactor is not planned to be working for over another decade, this is still within Bill’s call to get to zero emissions by 2050. His talk is below, and we can only cross our fingers that more people will get on board with technologies like this.
Whatever anyone wants to claim is the cause of global warming, there is no doubt that it is a reality that will continue to threaten our way of life on Earth. Beyond global warming, it sure would be nice to clear the smog out of our skies for a better view of the mountains and scenery. Bill Gates comments that we cannot keep waiting for miracles to happen, without a doubt, from our health to our future, a new source of energy certainly needs to be on the top list of priorities for the United States and for the world.
The video below is TerraPower CEO John Gilleland’s Introduction to TWRs
The video below is Nathan Myhrvold speaking about nuclear energy.