TerraPower

How to Apply Modern Computing to Nuclear Innovation

Chris Levesque, President

“Computer vision is now surpassing human vision.” That’s what Bill Gates told me the first time I met him.

Today’s supercomputers process impressive quantities of data at unbelievable speeds. These systems far surpass computing capabilities of merely 10 years ago. The computational power previously limited to national labs has found its way to everyone; parallel processing and computer clusters bring these tools closer to home, to the laptops we use every day. With computers, we “see” further by finding meticulous, mathematical patterns.

With improved efficiency, functionality and compactness, computer technology presents new flexibility. In a matter of hours, we can run thousands of multi-faceted simulations of entire reactor systems. TerraPower has put a unique integration platform into place that systematically applies each and every design consideration that nature presents us with. We can rapidly move from science to engineering. We iterate, address gaps and improve. Iterations remove risks and help us move forward.

To move from concept to construction, we need a clear line of sight to our goal. The ability to study and modify reactor designs with modeling and simulation allows us to simultaneously consider everything from the reactor’s nuclear physics to its thermodynamics, and of course safety. We can then understand the design requirements for the materials and the components in the traveling wave reactor (TWR) and molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR) technologies. Although the science for advanced nuclear reactors has existed for decades, we couldn’t engineer these wonderful machines until very recently. The ability to see patterns, model changes and create detailed mathematical descriptions of physical phenomena is an extremely significant enabler to advanced reactor development.

Better, faster, cheaper computers and software aren’t a solution to all of our problems. You can’t design and license a reactor with just a computer model. At TerraPower we understand the need for real data and testing. In our lab, we test our models in the physical world, validating our computer codes and providing future regulators with objective evidence that the models work.

At TerraPower, technological advances pair well with a skilled team of experts. Our approach de-risks projects and gives us the chance to get out in front of problem areas. Silos between different engineering disciplines are rapidly overcome. Computers offer views into the design process that overcome short-sightedness and allow for continuity from concept to engineering, and ultimately to construction and operation.

Our founders agree. They knew that modern technology provided an opportunity to develop clean energy sources that didn’t exist decades ago. TerraPower’s leadership set out to bring together the top computer scientists and physicists in the country. Ten years later, TerraPower is opening new horizons – that’s good news for those seeking sustainable clean energy solutions.