Monday, February 28, 2011

Bill Gates Backs the Traveling Wave Reactor from TerraPower

Mr. Gates got the project rolling with seed money in the tens of millions of dollars. Venture-capital firms Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures invested $35 million last year. Nuclear-industry veteran John Gilleland is TerraPower's chief executive; a network of part-time researchers and scientists around the country offer input. _WSJ
The Traveling Wave Reactor is designed to run for decades, using depleted uranium as fuel. With such reactors, Iran would have no need for its elaborate and expensive uranium enrichment facilities -- at least if all Iran wishes to do is to produce electricity from nuclear fission power plants.

Obama's NRC is unlikely to certify such a design for many years -- if ever. The NRC as it currently exists is conservative to the point of being fanatically obstructive to newer, safer, more economical and sustainable nuclear power designs. Only big players who have established an inside political position with the Obama administration -- such as General Electric -- need apply.
The traveling-wave reactor is still virtual, existing only in software on computers at TerraPower headquarters. Mr. Myrhvold says there is a basic design, not a full blueprint. But it's enough for the next step: building a test version of the reactor. TerraPower is looking for a customer, such as an electric utility, and a country that is willing to house an experimental reactor.

The company has made pitches in France and Japan, Mr. Myrhvold says; both have big nuclear-power industries. He's also made the rounds in Russia, China and India, he says. So far, there have been no takers.

One country he is certain won't be a customer anytime soon is the U.S., which doesn't yet have a certification process for reactors like TerraPower's. It would likely be a decade or more before the reactor could be tested on U.S. soil. "I don't think the U.S. has the willpower or desire to build new kinds of nuclear reactors," Mr. Myrhvold says. "Right now there's a long, drawn-out process." _WSJ

The current US government -- at least the executive, regulatory branch -- is antagonistic toward any type of energy which is reliable and affordable. Which means that only exorbitantly expensive and unreliable wind and solar are actually favoured within the inner circle of the Obama administration.

That is an unfortunate attitude for any government to take, in the face of a potential multi-decadal global cooling spell. How much worse when such a government is the executive branch of the world's only superpower. The coming days and years may not only be cold and dark, but downright unruly.

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