China National Nuclear Corp. and Terrapower will build the first unit in China and then deploy commercial versions of the sodium-cooled fast reactor to global markets within 15 years.
Bill Gate’s long and tireless efforts to close a deal with China National Nuclear Corp. have finally paid off. The company has inked a deal to build a first-of-a-kind unit of their sodium cooled fast reactor in China and then manufacture a commercial version of it.
Zhimin Qian, President of China National Nuclear Corp. signed the deal with Lee McIntire, CEO of TerraPower at a U.S. Trade and Investment Cooperation Conference held in Seattle on September 22.
According to the Associated Press, Bill Gates “stole the spotlight at a gathering of Chinese and U.S. business people and officials” in Seattle on September 22 after TerraPower and the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) formally agreed to jointly pursue next-generation nuclear power.
AP reported that Gates told the audience the agreement “is something I think exemplifies the U.S. and China working together well.”
TerraPower’s traveling wave reactor (TWR) is designed to be a 1150 megawatt-electric liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel.
According to a fact sheet on the company’s web site, it will greatly simplify the current nuclear fuel cycle by reducing the need for uranium mining, enrichment facilities, reprocessing plants and storage facilities.
This will result in cost savings, enhanced safety, reduced toxic waste, greater ease in waste disposal and and weapons proliferation resistance. See also the multi-media page at Terrapower for additional fact sheets, images, and videos.
Gates has been in talks with CNNC for years. He called the memorandum of understanding they signed “a milestone.” However, details were not released as to the schedule or cost of actually building the first unit. The agreement extends an arrangement approved by the US Department of Energy in 2013 which allows technical collaboration between US firms and China on TerraPower’s technology.
WNN reported that in January 2013 a prototype TWR-P was being discussed as a TerraPower-SNERDI joint project, and the US Department of Energy had negotiated an agreement with China “that would facilitate the joint development of TWR technology,” including standing wave versions of it.
The first TWR, a 600 MW prototype, is expected to demonstrate key plant equipment, qualify the fuel and materials for longer term use, and provide the technical, licensing and economic basis for commercial TWRs. This prototype is expected to be constructed between 2018 and 2023. After testing and optimization, 1150 MW commercial plants are expected to be licensed with start up in the late 2020s or early 2030s.
On his last trip to Beijing, which took place last February of this year, Gates met with Nur Bekri, a vice chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, and with China National Nuclear Corp chairman Sun Qin. China National Nuclear Corp is one of the country’s largest nuclear power company and a major Chinese partner of TerraPower. The two firms first announced an intent to cooperate on fast reactor designs in 2012.
The TWR is an advanced nuclear energy technology that TerraPower’s founders began working on as early as 2006. The company was founded in 2008 with the mission to identify and develop energy technologies that could offer cleaner, sustainable, baseload electricity that would be safe and cost-efficient.
By recent counts, TerraPower has about 120 full time staff in Bellevue and over 100 U.S. based technical consultants and partners.
Separately, Terrapower also announced it is working with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to develop and test fuel slugs to be used in the TWR. Technical details are reported by the INL at its website.
See also further technical and commercial development notes in 425 Business 9/23/15 “China Partnership Critical for TerraPower”
China to build 600 MW fast reactor as pilot plant
According to English language news media in China, that country’s government plans to begin building a pilot fast nuclear reactor in Fujian province in 2017.The report first appeared in Shanghai’s China Business News in mid-August.
According to that report, Xu Mi, a frequently cited researcher at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said construction of a pilot project for a fast neutron reactor in Fujian’s Xiapu province is set to begin at the end of 2017. The pilot plant will be a full scale facility with a capacity of 600 MW.
This isn’t the first fast reactor project in China. In 2011 World Nuclear News reported a prototype 20 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor was connected to the grid in Fujian province. The current project is reported to be an outgrowth of the prototype effort. World Nuclear News updated their profile of China’s work on fast reactors on July 29th of this year.
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This is depressing. Why can’t Terrapower build the reactor in the U.S.? Answer: the NRC would make it virtually impossible. The NRC was created by the coal industry lobbying Congress to stop nuclear power in the U.S. With the creation of the NRC nuclear power plant construction ground to a halt and not a single nuclear power plant was completed from conception to completion during its 40 year reign. Now natural gas, allied with wind and solar, will lobby to keep the NRC alive and well. Prior to the NRC, under the supervision of the Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. built around 100 reactors that reduced coal consumption by about 20%.
It should also be noted that China is also building the U.S. DOE designed molten salt reactor (MSR) and will own all the patents on it. Whether it is Terrapower’s traveling wave reactor or the DOE’s molten salt reactor, the NRC is not likely to allow it to be sold in the U.S.A. The U.S. will burn greenhouse emitting natural gas and use some token wind and solar to pacify the so-called environmentalists.
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Yup. As Jerry said, to the word.
To paraphrase Churchill, the U.S. will do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives…
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While it great that an advanced reactor design is moving forward in China, there are many other designs I would have been more enthusiastic about.
The TerraPower reactor is still fairly large and my understanding is that it still requires active cooling to prevent core melt (i.e., it lacks an important fundamental advantages that most SMRs have). It’s also not clear if its fuel cycle capabilities are as good as those featured by many other designs (such as the MSR?). They tout its ability to use depleted uranium as fuel. That may reduce the need for uranium mining, but it isn’t one of the important issues facing nuclear power.
The news I’d really like to hear is that we convinced China to set up a large assembly line to build huge numbers of SMRs. Any SMR will do, including good old LWR designs such as mPower or NuScale. As long as they’re small enough to not need active cooling. That will bring the module price way down, as it (China) did for solar panels. Then nuclear would finally be economically viable.
Jerry’s right about everything concerning the NRC. I’m also sure that they, along with many people and politicians in the US, would oppose the use of those cheap, Chinese modules, on the basis of “safety”. One of the real weaknesses of nuclear is its almost unique vulnerability to blackmail and fearmongering, where various interests (e.g., anti-nukes, or US labor) can just play the safety card to prevent anything like this from happening.
This project sounded like hype from day … boy and girl genius from MIT save the World. They’ve attracted enough attention, money, and people that perhaps they have something now (they completely changed the design … which sounds like grownups taking charge).
Can an expert tell me in what way this is superior to, for example, Russia’s BN800 (which has actually been built and will be started up again any day) and planned BN1200.
I think you’ve got TerraPower mixed up with the MIT crew. Two separate efforts.
A Terrapower TWR Safety Concern –
Numbers (and educated guesses) – guesses because designers at Terrapower are not forthcoming regarding information relating to safety critical elements of their SFR designs including how much total sodium coolant is contained in their reactor
Sodium reacts exothermically with liquid water or steam to generate sodium hydroxide and hydrogen:
Na + H2O NaOH + 1/2H2 + heat
Heat of reaction: ~ 162kJ/molNa
Hydrogen tends to accumulate in the roof area of a reactor containment building and if the conditions are right, hydrogen air mixtures can detonate (range over which hydrogen air mixtures can detonate – from 18.3 to 59 percent mixture of hydrogen to air). This is a very wide range of hydrogen-air mixtures and this means that in a real world accident setting, the chance of an explosive hydrogen-air detonation is likely enough to not be disregarded and discounted.
A fast reactor like the sodium cooled 1150 MWe Terrapower TWR would have a very large fire/explosive potential (5.8 x 10^13 joules of energy derived from the 5500 metric tons of sodium coolant (the amount of sodium coolant in the 1200 MWe French Superphenix with similar sodium pool design)
5500 metric tons of sodium coolant if exposed to air or water is capable of producing large amounts of potentially explosive hydrogen (2.678 x 10^9 liter of H2 gas). This large volume of hydrogen would be produced from reaction of sodium coolant in the TWR sodium pool with the cement floor or walls of the reactor containment building (or with standing water left from a flood or tsunami). Such a large amount of hydrogen presents a potential safety problem that exceeds any conceivable accident scenario with a similar sized Molten Salt Reactor.
Reference – G. Manzini and F. Parozzi “Sodium Safety”
Click to access 73-78_Manzini_Tecnica_283.pdf
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