By: Jeff Latkowski, Ph.D, Senior Vice President, Innovation
On Oct. 15, I had the privilege of participating in the 2015 Workshop on Molten Salt Reactor Technologies held at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The event convened, in part, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the startup of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment. This important effort, begun around 1960 under the leadership of Dr. Alvin Weinberg, is a significant cornerstone in the history of advanced nuclear reactor development. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet the scientists and physicists involved in such an historic project, as well as to learn about the groundswell of new molten salt designs being explored all over the world.
As a reactor designer, I find molten salt reactors intriguing. I’m very lucky that my role at TerraPower has put me in a unique and gratifying position with the ability to dream and investigate these types of technologies.
TerraPower’s success with our centerpiece technology, the traveling wave reactor (TWR), reflects our commitment to never stop exploring; as our new CEO likes to say, TerraPower has always been an innovation company. Along the way, we believe our innovation approach benefits from separate opportunities for our team to apply new tools and hone skills with other early stage technologies. We find other reactor types, medical isotopes and advanced manufacturing methods extremely intriguing and intend to contribute substantial developments to diverse fields as often as possible. There is a small team within TerraPower, led by myself, who are dedicated to the origination, evaluation and development of high-risk, high-potential technologies.
To accomplish this, we have a process by which we evaluate new concepts. If an idea looks like it has potential, its status changes to what we call a seedling. At this stage, the idea generator is given a small amount of funding and the time to answer a few key questions, questions that will help determine if the seedling has growth potential and aligns with TerraPower’s mission and vision. Multiple iterations are typical. If the answer is “yes,” then the seedling might become a focus area worthy of further exploration and increased resources. Multidisciplinary teams are a must for seedlings and focus areas. By demonstrating good technical progress and the ability to attract strategic partners, a focus area might grow to a full-blown project over time. To put this in perspective – the TWR is TerraPower’s only design at the project stage of idea development, and it remains our centerpiece technology.
TerraPower will continue to investigate a variety of technologies. We expect this process to lead to innovative and important products in the fields of energy and human health. By continuing to nurture the freedom to think completely outside the box, TerraPower is able to challenge ourselves and make sure that any technology we produce is at the forefront of innovation.