3000 Year Fuel Supply: Depleted Uranium

Terrapower is an evolution of Intellectual Ventures. Terrapower’s traveling wave reactor technology looks interesting. Like Gen-IV fast breeder reactors, this is a fast neutron design. But Terrapower’s concept involves a once-through fuel cycle instead of the multiple recycling passes of the IFR. From the Intellectual Ventures blog:

This is a photo of an existing stockpile of depleted uranium at Paducah, Kentucky. The U.S. has 700, 000 metric tons of this nuclear waste. Using this as fuel for our reactor, it represents a 3000 year national energy reserve.

Traveling Wave Reactors can convert these 36, 000 cylinders of “waste” to ~$100 Trillion of electricity.

Photo: Peter Essick

[From 3000 Year Fuel Supply: Depleted Uranium]

Here is some more background on Intellectual Ventures and Princeton grad/founder Myhrvold:

Nathan Myhrvold founded Microsoft Research “…and spent 13 years as an all-purpose sage and eccentric genius at the side of Bill Gates”

He’s an innovation maestro, an inventor slash promoter slash entrepreneur. Among his most important inventions, he says, is the business model of the company he founded, Intellectual Ventures, or IV, an investment fund that’s similar to a venture-capital outfit — except that, rather than invest- ing in startup companies, it buys patents.

A standard venture capitalist gives money to people who’ve already demonstrated a marketable concept.Myhrvold is jumping one step ahead of that game, snapping up ideas fresh from someone’s mind.Some of them will prove com- mercially viable, others won’t.Intellectual Ventures owns 20, 000 patents and patent-related assets, having paid out, according to a company spokeswoman, $300 million to inventors so far.The company then leases the patents, some- times in bundles, to other companies.So far, IV has pulled in $1 billion in licensing fees, the spokeswoman said.The fund has $5 billion under management, with investors who include some of the world’s best-known tech tycoons — Bill Gates among them.Gates and others have engaged in IV- sponsored meetings in which everyone takes turns tossing inspirations against the wall to see what sticks.

UPDATE: from the same Princeton Review article is a small tidbit on the traveling wave reactor:

For example, nuclear power: Myhrvold is a believer in its potential, and his company is trying to develop a prototype of a cheap, safe, easy-to-build nuclear reactor that runs on a radioactive fuel called thorium. He thinks the United States got the willies about nuclear power in the late 1970s, in large part because of environmental concerns. Lo and behold, he says, that led to a surge in construction of coal- fired power plants, which kill more people (through air pollution and coal-mining accidents) than nuclear power plants, and have the additional unsavory feature of con- tributing greatly to global warming.

2 thoughts on “3000 Year Fuel Supply: Depleted Uranium

  1. TomChemEngineer

    Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors commonly use unenriched uranium, and several are in operation beginnng with the CANDU design, then also being built by NPCIL in India and Siemens in Argentina. Deplated Uranium is similar to unenriched uranium, so the technology is already existing to do this. In essence, the heavy water conserves neutrons, so money is spent on separating heavy water rather than spending it in enrichng the uranium. Good stuff. Needs to be developed further to use the DU feedstock. U-238 (the most common element of depleted uranium (DU)) can’t be made fissionable/ critical with current technology so these are inherently safe. The heavy water slows down the neutrons from the little bit of U-235 remaining in the DU and heats up the water. Thanks for the info. This path needs to be watched and nurtured.

  2. TomChemEngineer

    It looks like this “travelling wave reactor technology” uses liquid sodium as the moderator/neutron brake and just allows the fuel to be cycled through without a big deal to change out fuel rods. This is the big advantage of using unenriched fuel rods (or depleted uranium). Same principle as the Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (above), but also without the need to make the heavy water (deuterium oxide). Promising!

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