Bill Gates’s Energy Venture Wants to Develop Advanced Reactors to Supplement Renewable Sources
A nuclear energy venture founded by Bill Gates said on 27 August it hopes to build small advanced nuclear power stations that can store electricity to supplement grids increasingly supplied by intermittent sources like solar and wind power.
The effort is part of the billionaire philanthropist’s push to help fight climate change, and is targeted at helping utilities slash their emissions of planet-warming gases without undermining grid reliability.
TerraPower LLC and its partner GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, plan to commercialize stations called Natrium in the United States later this decade. If successful, the plan is to build the plants in the United States and abroad.
By 2050 “we would see hundreds of these reactors around the world, solving multiple different energy needs,” TerraPower’s President and Chief Executive Chris Levesque said.
The 345-megawatt plants would be cooled by liquid sodium and cost about $1 billion each. The new plants are designed to complement renewable sources of electricity because they will store the reactor power in tanks of molten salt during days when the grid is well supplied. The nuclear power could be used later when solar and wind power are low due to weather conditions.
Molten salt power storage has been used at thermal solar plants in the past, but leaks have plagued some of the projects. Levesque said the Natrium design would provide more consistent temperatures than a solar plant, resulting in less wear and tear
Levesque said Natrium plants would first be built in the United States and other developed countries, but could later spread to countries that do not have yet have nuclear power.
Nonproliferation experts have warned that advanced nuclear projects could become targets for attack because their uranium fuel would be more highly enriched and more easily converted to fissile material than conventional fuel.