Bill Gates is helping China go nuclear safely, with an innovative new reactor design being developed between Terrapower and Chinese engineers that would prioritize long-lasting, clean energy with minimal waste. Gates expects work on the fourth-gen reactor to cost in excess of $1bn over the next five years, the BBC reports, with the company he founded, Terrapower, helping produce a so-called “traveling wave reactor” that would be far safer than previous models despite running continuously for up to 60 years.
“The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste” Gates said this week, publicly confirming the talks between Terrapower and the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation. Although talks are at an “early stage” one of the key benefits of the fourth-gen design is that they are created with safety as the default. “All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe,” Gates insisted, point out that “they require no human action to remain safe at all times.”
Traveling wave reactors (TWRs) are unique among nuclear power plant technologies for being relatively fuel agnostic. Once the chain reaction has been started, TWRs can not be fed by depleted uranium, natural uranium, spent fuel taken from existing light water reactors, or even a combination of different materials. In contrast, current designs require a supply of enriched uranium that must go through dangerous and costly reprocessing.
The problem is that, so far, TWRs have not left the drawing board and jumped to actual products. Still, the designs are appealing because of their low-maintenance nature: once started they would be in effect self-sustained and could operate for 40-60 years without requiring any refueling or removal of spent fuel rods.
More on the traveling wave reactor at Wikipedia.