TerraPower Moves One Step Closer to Gen IV Clean, Safe and Efficient Nuclear Power Generation

Since it was founded by Bill Gates and a group of like-minded visionaries, TerraPower has been a nuclear innovation company at the forefront of R&D, focused on energy independence, environmental sustainability, and other solutions that are lighting up the electric power industry, including Nuclear Power Generation. 

Fourth generation nuclear power, or Generation IV, is defined generally as a system of reactors and nuclear fuel cycle facilities, fuel fabrication plants, and reprocessing facilities that, when integrated, addresses the risks and weaknesses traditionally associated with nuclear power generation.

Established in 2006 on the premise that the private sector had to act quick to develop clean energy resources to halt climate change an to improve lives and communities, today TerraPower is known for innovation and incubation, and accepts and tackles some of the world’s most difficult challenges, and is an “organizing force” that bring together the strengths and experiences of both the public and private sectors to answer the world’s toughest challenges in an increasingly connected world.

Last year, Southern Company, one of the largest energy transmission companies in the world, through its subsidiary Southern Company Services, and TerraPower announced they completed installation of the Integrated Effects Test, marking a major milestone in the development of TerraPower’s first-of-a-kind Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR). The test is the world’s largest chloride salt system developed by the nuclear sector, and following years of Separate Effects Testing, demonstrates how the MCFR technology will perform in delivering a commercial-scale, cost-effective, carbon-free molten salt reactor energy source by 2035.

Located at TerraPower’s laboratory in Everett, Washington, the Integrated Effects Test is a nonnuclear, externally heated, up to 1-megawatt multiloop system to support future deployment of a fast-spectrum salt test reactor. 

The project continues work initiated in 2015 by Southern Company Services and TerraPower under the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC-15) award, a multiyear effort to promote the design, construction and operation of Generation-IV nuclear reactors. 

With a $76 million investment, with a 60/40 percent public-private cost share, an ecosystem of contributors is fueling innovation with a project team also including CORE POWER, EPRI, Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt University. 

The next generation of nuclear reactors promise the same stable value to customers that is derived from the current operating nuclear fleet, can complement intermittent renewable resources on the grid. 

With the potential to provide zero-carbon, high-grade process heat and thermal storage for energy-intensive industrial markets and ocean transportation sectors that currently rely on fossil fuels, this much safer and cleaner nuclear energy is expected to deliver affordable, reliable, resilient, and dispatchable carbon-free power and is an important driver of a net-zero economy by 2050.

Both the Integrated Effects Test and the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment will inform the design, licensing and operation of an approximately 180-megawatt MCFR demonstration planned for the next decade.

“The completion and installation of the Integrated Effects Test is an important step to advancing TerraPower’s Molten Chloride Fast Reactor technology,” said Jeff Latkowski, TerraPower’s senior vice president of innovation programs. “The MCFR will play a pivotal role in decarbonizing heavy industries, and we are proud to work with Southern Company, CORE POWER and other partners to develop the systems necessary to bring new reactors to market.”

“Southern Company’s research and development program is committed to advancing next-generation nuclear as part of a diverse technology portfolio supporting our goal of a net-zero future for customers,” said Dr. Mark S. Berry, Southern Company Services senior vice president of R&D. “We are honored to engage with TerraPower, the Department of Energy and the other team members to further this goal through the Integrated Effects Test. Collaborations of this kind are critical to making transformational change in our energy system a reality.”

 Dr. Kathryn Huff, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy said, “The IET facility is a huge step forward in commercializing molten salt reactor technology that will help the U.S. transition to a new, clean-energy economy and help position the U.S. as a leader in the development of advanced reactor technologies.”

TerraPower’s MCFR is one of the most advanced Generation-IV nuclear technologies under development and is separate from TerraPower’s NatriumTM reactor and integrated energy storage technology. The MCFR is a liquid salt-fueled, salt-cooled fast reactor that will enable operation at low pressures and high temperatures. It offers superior performance, inherent benefits in safety and life-cycle sustainability, reduced capital investment and O&M costs, and has the ability to operate using a number of fuel sources – including depleted and natural uranium or even spent fuel from existing reactors.

In October 2021, the World Nuclear Association, in collaboration with the Canadian Nuclear Association, FORATOM, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the Nuclear Industry Association, released a report entitled: Nuclear’s contribution to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Report seeks to demonstrates how nuclear conforms to the spirit of Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) investment criteria and classification systems.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda calls on businesses to strengthen their contributions in public and private scenarios like the work being done by TerraPower and related private companies.  

As ESG begins to see more widespread adoption and regulatory oversight, as guardrails to greenwashing, many organizations are aligning SDGs with ESG development programs, and in this post by Emily Reedman, a political science graduate with an interest in philanthropy, global governance and financing the global transition to net-zero, the author posits that “with nuclear being a significant fraction (31 percent) of clean energy globally, this offers an opportunity for the industry to attract ESG-driven investment capital.  Unfortunately, the combination of nuclear energy’s mixed public image, and the rise of “greenwashing” in tandem with the ESG boom, means that there are substantial hurdles the industry must overcome. Global efforts to combat greenwashing and regulate ESG investment offers the nuclear energy industry the opportunity to refine their public image and to play a critical role in the path to net-zero.”

Cynthia Artin

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