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Babcock & Wilcox and TerraPower to partner on development of Gen IV traveling wave reactor

17 February 2014

The Babcock & Wilcox Company (B&W) and TerraPower have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to support the development of TerraPower’s Generation IV traveling wave reactor (TWR). Unlike B&W’s Generation III++ small modular reactor (SMR) mPower which is based on PWR technology and standard fuel enriched to 5% (earlier post), TerraPower’s TWR is a larger reactor based on Generation IV technology and designed to use depleted uranium as fuel.

Nuclear fission power plants produce electricity by utilizing the heat resulting from splitting large atoms, such as U-235, into smaller atoms. Each time an atom splits (or “fissions”) it releases neutrons and heat. In turn, released neutrons cause other fissions, creating a sustained chain reaction.

TWRs, also known as a breed-and-burn reactors or nuclear-burning-wave reactors, are a variety of fast reactor that uses an initial mass of low-enriched fuel to initiate a wave of fission that can then continue propagating through fertile fuel, such as natural or depleted uranium.

As described in a 2012 paper by TerraPower staff, the TWR is of the “standing wave” type, meaning that assemblies are shuffled to keep the power producing region in one place.

The TWR commercial reactor plant design is a 1,150 MW liquid-sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel. The novel design allows for the use of depleted uranium generated by the enrichment process used for existing light water reactors fueled with enriched uranium.

Comparing_Reactor_Techologies
Source: TerraPower. Click to enlarge.

The TWR’s economic benefits stem from its ability to breed and burn metallic fuel comprising initial starter fuel of U-235 and U-238. Conventional nuclear energy plants use U-235 because U-238 is considered too weak of an energy source.

TerraPower’s ability to develop new fuels and materials that can breed and burn U-238 could enable a TWR to get up to 50 times more energy out of every pound of mined uranium than can a conventional light water reactor, the company says.

With the conceptual design phase under way, B&W will provide support to TerraPower as the project enters the preliminary design phase.

B&W will provide TerraPower with services and program support in multiple areas, which may include design and fabrication of engineered components; fuel fabrication process development, prototype fabrication, fuel services; reactor design engineering; reactor operations support; staff augmentation, both US and foreign assignment; engineering services; flow loop testing; licensing support; and materials testing.

Through this MOU and the agreement on which the parties are currently working, B&W will be recognized as a strategic technology supplier, while TerraPower continues its design work and prepares to commercialize the reactor globally.

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A series of these should be built at the Nevada Test Site, with next-generation transmission lines going to new desalination plants in California, to provide freshwater for America & the western states who need it!

I hope that this comes to fruition. Of all of the low carbon energy solutions that I have seen, this is the one that seems to make the most sense. High energy density with low land use and low waste. I believe that you can also burn up the existing nuclear waste with this type of reactor.

Yes, theoretically you can burn plutonium from spent fuel rods if it works, this design has just been simulated. I prefer the thorium designs with fast breeders in second place.

For desalinization, you could put solar thermal troughs down in Mexicali, take sea water from the Gulf of California and provide water to homes in Arizona and southern California.

Of course, you can desalinate using multistage evaporator condensers run off the cooling secton of many power plants.

Oh-oh. Mentions the TWR relies on liquid sodium, which has been a failure for 50 years. No chance it will burn fuel continuously for 40 years and engender public trust.

I would suggest reopening heavy water as a core technology. This simplifies reactor cooling and neutron moderation with a material that lasts virtually forever -- water. A thorium/U238 mix produces a great deal of fissile uranium (233 and 235) and Pu, which can be readily reprocessed from chemically distinct thorium. If needed, the fuel pellets can start big and fat, and shaved off from the outer surface, leaving the inner section to fit a standard reactor. The outside would be reprocessed and remixed. The outside and the inside would have different fuel constituencies, to maximize extractable energy.

We're not talking about converting all the fuel to energy, but we are talking about minimizing the relative costs of mining, enrichment, and fuel remediation to meet the cost parameters of the initial heavy water investment.

I barely hear anything about CANDU or heavy water these days so I would like to know if you all out there have.

Liquid sodium leaks are not pretty. Molten salts make an inherently much safer coolant. But I wish them good luck--there is plenty of depleted U to go around.

The US government should throw a fair bit of money at this and try to get something out as fast as is safe.

While renewables (solar and wind) are very pretty and becoming cheap, they are still intermittant, so you need something (preferably non fossil) to keep the grid running.

Can you throttle these reactors or do they just keep going at a constant rate ?

Either way, they'd be a lot better than coal - in terms of co2 and other "local" pollution (NOX, SO2 soot, etc).

A perfect solution would be a throttleable nucelar reactor which could be used (with a bit of hydro and fossil peakers for load shaping) to balance wind and or solar.

However, even if we had base load replacement, it would be a good thing.

[ France gets 79% of their power from Nukes, so that shows what can be done with a bit of will [money] and national pride. ]

Oh-oh. Mentions the TWR relies on liquid sodium, which has been a failure for 50 years.

The sodium-cooled EBR-II was a rousing success for 30 years, until it was shut down by a budget cutoff 20 years ago (through the machinations of Hazel O'Leary and John Kerry).  The "disasters" at reactors like Monju involved no injuries and caused no release of radiation.

I would suggest reopening heavy water as a core technology.

Water is a high-pressure coolant, with all of the issues of rapid loss and explosive energy release that implies.

I barely hear anything about CANDU or heavy water these days

The site of the heavy-water plant in Ontario was just certified as being non-nuclear.  Not even Canada is in the heavy water business any more.

I'm a fan of molten salts, but I have to agree that there are things that sodium-cooled fast reactors can probably do better.  If we're going to have energy diversity, we need technology diversity within the nuclear field.

Can you throttle these reactors or do they just keep going at a constant rate ?

Who cares?  Design them to dump steam if required (you'll get some very rapid response to power demand).  Use excess heat for non-electric purposes, like hydrothermal cracking of cellulose to sugars or HMF.  There's a ton of jobs that cheap, carbon-free energy is ideal for.

As many posters repeatedly say, what would be the total initial and total on-going cost? Not mentioned-detailed and probably both very high!

Even at over $0.16/kWh, USA may need it to replace some of the 400+ existing polluting CPPs and older NPPs.

Eventually, a mix with 25% to 40% Solar + Wind could bring total e-energy sources cost between $0.10 and $0.15/kWh. When equivalent liquid fuel replacement taxes applied, future EV users should get recharges at under $0.20/kWh. That's still cheaper than liquid fuels at $4 to $8/gallon.

"TerraPower has also estimated that wide deployment of TWRs could enable projected global stockpiles of depleted uranium to sustain 80% of the world's population at U.S. per capita energy usages for over a millennium."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor

Impressive

Liquid-sodium will burn on contact with air. Think about that for a moment.

Finely divided iron will burn on contact with air.  So do many streams in petroleum refineries.  We tend to get by pretty well even without using an inert cover gas, as we do with sodium-cooled reactors and welding of magnesium and aluminum.

The advantage of sodium is its high boiling point, low neutron absorption and very non-corrosive nature.  It's relatively cheap as well.

"The BN-600 reactor is a sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor, built at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station, in Zarechny, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia. Designed to generate electrical power of 600 MW in total, the plant dispatches 560 MW to the Middle Urals power grid. It has been in operation since 1980."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BN-600_reactor

34 years...

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