A decade after the Fukushima nuclear accident set back nuclear power’s prospects worldwide, nuclear power may see its comeback in the Western hemisphere amidst the climate crisis. Significant advances in nuclear technology along with national security concerns about China’s and Russia’s growing leadership in nuclear power provide the environment for Bill Gates and his TerraPower.
The urgency to combat the climate crisis grows and the world looks for the pathway to net-zero emissions. To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, global electricity use will need to more than double, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). All that electricity must then come from zero-carbon sources. Solar and wind power can provide much of that but not all. Today, nuclear power is the only carbon-free energy source operating at a scale that can reliably deliver the needed power.
TerraPower (www.terrapower.com) was founded by Bill Gates and a group of like-minded visionaries in 2006 with the goal to develop advanced nuclear energy to meet growing electricity needs, mitigate climate change and lift billions out of poverty. Advanced reactors and other isotopic applications are now possible with technology and enhanced computing capabilities that were unimaginable a few decades ago.
TerraPower is set to open its Natrium plant in Wyoming, United States, in 2028. The U.S. government will provide funding to cover half of the $4 billion project. Recently, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd announced that they plan to cooperate with the United States and Bill Gates for the Natrium plant. JAEA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will provide technical support and data from Japan’s own advanced reactors, Reuters reports.
The 345-megawatt plant is scheduled to open in 2028, which is the timeline mandated by Congress. The Natrium reactor would be fueled by uranium enriched up to 20%, a far higher level than today’s fuel.
TerraPower is also a question of national security in the U.S. Of the 72 nuclear reactors planned or under construction outside Russia 2018, more than 50 percent involved Russian companies, and around 20 percent involved Chinese ones; fewer than 3 percent were being built by U.S. companies. China is especially well-positioned in the global nuclear game given its gargantuan domestic reactor build program, Foreign Policy points out.
Bill Gates and his TerraForm will bring the U.S. back into the global nuclear game and to the forefront of the zero-emission path.