SMR and TWR – Correcting the Record

Frequently in the press, reporters mention TerraPower’s traveling wave reactor (TWR) alongside many other emerging nuclear reactor technologies. We, of course, want the world to know about our innovations and like to be included in these news reports, but sometimes misperceptions arise. Over time, the popularity of small modular reactor (SMR) designs has caused our design to be lumped into this category. We recognize a unique market for SMRs and applaud efforts to develop this technology. However, TerraPower’s immediate goals require scaling up large-scale electricity access in ways that are affordable, safe and secure for the world’s megacities. So we want to set the record straight.

  • TerraPower’s TWR is a base load nuclear energy plant. Our designs are on the order of 600 megawatts-electric for the prototype and 1150 megawatts-electric for the commercial design. In comparison, SMRs produce electricity on a smaller scale. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy defines an SMR as a reactor designed to produce less than 300 megawatts-electric. Even the IAEA only goes up to 700 megawatts-electric in their classification of SMRs.
  • Our goal is to develop a sustainable and economic nuclear energy technology that offers a safe, economic form of low-carbon energy to meet base load demand for electricity. In other words, TerraPower offers a large-scale nuclear energy system that will provide reliable, consistent electricity to 1.2 billion people around the world who lack it.
  • The TWR takes a unique approach to nuclear energy, one that runs on fuel made from depleted uranium as its main energy source. This substance is currently a waste by-product of the enrichment process, and its use as a fuel provides significant benefits when applied to a large-scale design like ours.

In summary: our TWR is a big reactor, focused on providing base load power to accommodate the need in parts of the world where electricity demand is growing fastest. We chose this technology and this scale because, according to our analysis, it offers the best commercial solution from many different angles.