It’s an unlikely venture capital endeavor. Nuclear power has become the beneficiary of one of the world’s wealthiest and most forward-thinking philanthropists.
Retired Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is known for his passionate assault on hunger and poverty in under-developed countries. Meanwhile, nuclear power is typically not the first to mind when one considers carbon-free energy sources.
Gates is not your typical investor. Ten years ago, he co-founded the company TerraPower, which is dedicated to nuclear energy innovation. Its efforts may be paying off, and the company is preparing to open a facility that could trigger a breakthrough for nuclear power and carbon-free power in general.
The company is developing a line of reactors that will rely on a process using molten-chloride instead of “light water” coolant, which minimizes radioactive waste, lowers costs, and increases energy output.
Unlike in a light water reactor, uranium fuel can be immersed directly into the salts of a molten-chloride system. Heat from the fission of uranium atoms in the reactor is transferred through exchangers to clean salt, which is piped to a different facility where it is used to create steam and generate electricity.
The process is more efficient than water reactors. Molten salts can be heated to a much higher temperature because they do not evaporate like water. Molten reactors also produce less radioactive waste, and they last longer than a water reactor.
TerraPower plans to open a new laboratory next year to test the reactors. The testing is intended to pave the way for the development of a molten-chloride prototype by 2030.
In an interview with Business Insider, TerraPower’s Chief Technology Officer John Gilleland explained the unique process in the molten-chloride reactor allows for the generation of electricity without carbon emissions. He calls it the "ultimate green reactor."