By: John Gilleland, Ph.D, Chief Technical Officer
Reliable, stable and affordable sources of energy are vital to everyone. Energy builds strong economies, creates stable democracies and helps to foster innovation around the world. We need energy. But as we continue to deal with climate change and its impacts around the world, we must balance this need for energy with responsible choices.
We need the right kind of energy. Energy that burns cleaner and produces a small amount of waste. Nuclear energy fits that bill. In fact, one small uranium pellet, the fuel for a nuclear reactor, can produce the same amount of energy as 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil. The energy density of uranium is unmatched by other sources. But, as Dr. James Conca, recently discussed, there may be more we can do – and we at TerraPower agree.
One of TerraPower’s priorities is taking an already efficient fuel source, and making it that much more so. Through partnerships with Framatome (formerly AREVA) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the company has made considerable progress in areas including fuel fabrication and fuel test assemblies in preparation for the commercialization of TWR demonstration reactor. In fact, we have already made metal fuel pellets for the first time since the 1980s using a new extrusion process.
The TWR design produces 1/5th as much waste as current plants, utilizing mostly depleted uranium as its fuel and improving fuel efficiency. Over a plant’s 60-year life, the total waste volume of the TWR plant would only equal the capacity of about 1.5 rail cars.
During the typical uranium enrichment process, the U-238, or depleted uranium, goes unused since current reactor technologies are unable to operate using it. However, TerraPower’s TWR technology provides a potential capability to utilize fuel made from depleted uranium, a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. Used fuel is stored inside the core of the reactor, reducing the need for external storage and transportation of waste. Not only that, but longer operating high-efficiency cycles maintain the supply of carbon free electricity with reduced need for mining, enrichment and waste disposal.