Minimizing Security Risks
TerraPower chose to develop the traveling wave reactor (TWR) because it presents an alternative fuel cycle that offers the most proliferation-resistant technology in the world with a reduced need for enrichment and no reprocessing.
The TWR simplifies the nuclear fuel cycle, containing it within the core of the reactor. It requires no chemical reprocessing capabilities and eventually no enrichment capabilities. This eliminates key points that traditionally provide opportunity for proliferation.
- Forgoing enrichment and chemical separation eliminates the main diversion point of weapons-usable material from the fuel cycle. The TWR’s starter fuel is low enriched (<20%) and is consumed in place as the reactor operates. All fast reactors being developed today, except the TWR, require reprocessing.
- Eventually, the TWR eliminates the need for enrichment. This replaces the initial need for U-235 and even further reduces the waste produced by a TWR.
- Like other reactors, the TWR’s unique core reaction does produce plutonium, along with other fission products, in the first “wave” of fission. However, unlike other reactors, a second “wave” follows the first, consuming much of the plutonium. The core can be left closed for 40 years, reducing exposure of the assemblies to weapons proliferation.
- Most of the core is composed of depleted uranium (U-238), which is the waste product arising from the enrichment process. The ability to use depleted uranium and keep fuel assemblies inside the nuclear vessel greatly reduces the possibility of converting spent nuclear fuel into weapons. By using U-238 for its main fuel, the TWR removes the need to protect stockpiles of depleted uranium and the need for enrichment. U-238 is unusable for nuclear weapons without considerable chemical processing.
Removing enrichment from nuclear energy production allows a clear separation between countries pursuing peaceful uses of nuclear energy and those who are not. The TWR provides a secure technology capable of use by the global community, without the ability to produce weapons materials.