ImpactAlpha, Aug. 22 – Nuclear energy is having a moment. Aging plants are being extended to mitigate an energy crunch in Europe and the U.S. But it’s a new crop of small, modular reactors that could shift public perception and revive nuclear energy as a source of carbon-free energy.
The new reactors are projected to be safer, more efficient and one-third or less the size of their hulking predecessors. Bellevue-Wash.-based TerraPower, which bills itself a “nuclear innovation company,” is also pursuing nuclear medicine to fight cancer.
Gates, who founded TerraPower in 2006, re-upped in a $750 million round that included the South Korean conglomerate SK to help build out the company’s Natrium demonstration reactor at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The project is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.
The Natrium reactor uses a sodium-based cooling system and molten salt for energy storage, which the company says is safer and less costly than other methods.
At least one nuclear veteran is not convinced. TerraPower is “following in the footsteps of a 70-year-long record of sodium-cooled nuclear technological failures,” nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen wrote in Climate & Capital.
The company “will siphon valuable public funds and research from inexpensive and proven renewable energy alternatives.”