Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ex-Microsoft scientist crafts nuclear reactor startup

In case you were wondering about this TerraPower thing that Bill Gates was discussing at TED.

Thorium. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

TerraPower is gearing up to enter the new nuclear market with a reactor that runs on natural or depleted uranium.

Intellectual Ventures, the high-level think tank created by ex-Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, is going nuclear.

The firm is getting prepared to spin out a company called TerraPower that will develop nuclear reactors that run primarily on natural or depleted uranium, rather than enriched uranium. With un-enriched fuel, the reactors could be loaded up with fuel and sealed for 30 to 60 years.

Switching from enriched fuel would reduce risks associated with nuclear proliferation and transportation as well as reduce the amount of nuclear waste primarily because the stockpile of uranium would go farther. Depleted uranium is a waste product in the enrichment process. TerraPower's reactor needs some enriched uranium, but only at the beginning to initiate a reaction.

The switch could also mean that the available supplies of uranium could be exploited to provide power for centuries or even thousands of years, according to the company, far longer than what can be done with enriched uranium.

The reactors will ideally vary in size from a few megawatts, big enough to power industrial sites or small cities, to large multi-gigawatt reactors that can power a major city. Terrapower is also looking at thorium reactors, which do not release plutonium as a byproduct. That would further reduce any risks associated with nuclear.

Like it or not, nuclear is making something of a comeback worldwide. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency expects to receive approximately 30 applications for new reactors over the next few years. Proponents say nuclear is clean and inexpensive and safer than it was in the past. Critics say it still isn't cost effective.

Threading that gap are new startups like TerraPower and Hyperion Power Generation, which is also developing a small nuclear reactor. Some companies such as General Fusion want to do fusion reactors. …

Ex-Microsoft Scientist Crafts Nuclear Reactor Startup

Technorati Tags:

No comments: