Nikkei: Bill Gates and China spur development of next-generation reactors

BEIJING — The Chinese city of Cangzhou is known for its long tradition of martial arts mastery. If Bill Gates has his way, it will also be known as the birthplace of the nuclear power plant of the future.

TerraPower, a U.S. nuclear-reactor design company chaired by the Microsoft co-founder, is looking to build a new model called a traveling-wave reactor, or TWR, with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp.

The two entities set up a joint venture in November, answering Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s call for “breakthroughs through collective wisdom and international cooperation.”

Li said he hoped that a combination of advanced technology from the U.S. and “China’s rich talent resources” could make it happen.

Gates said the new nuclear technology is of great importance for the future development of energy and technology, ensuring a clean, safe and reliable energy supply.

“We are willing to turn common visions into reality with an open attitude,” he said at his November meeting with Li.

Traveling-wave reactors, which are still in the development stage, promise a high degree of safety at low cost, experts say. A traveling-wave reactor is a type of small modular reactor and less costly to produce than larger reactors.

TerraPower says its goal is “to achieve startup of its prototype TWR reactor in the mid-2020s, followed by global commercial deployment.”

A variety of other small modular reactors are under development, but they all share several characteristics. For one, they produce less power than the current 1-million-kilowatt-class light-water reactors. Moreover, because of their modularity, small modular reactors are relatively inexpensive to construct. Main components are manufactured at a plant then assembled on-site.

Small modular reactors have yet to prove their competitiveness in terms of power generation, but projects to develop them are advancing as companies and governments see a future in the technology.

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