November 28, 2016
The nuclear industry is faced with an exciting opportunity and a serious challenge.
Just recently, TerraPower’s CTO John Gilleland addressed the opening session of the American Nuclear Society’s winter conference. John emphasized the link between quality of life and electricity, showing that the world is in urgent need of reliable, clean energy sources capable of producing large amounts of electricity. I’m proud to be working for a company developing exactly that.
As an industry, we have an opportunity to quickly advance reactor technology thanks to three nearly simultaneous developments:
1) The entry of a new generation of nuclear professionals who are truly “mission driven;”
2) The support of visionary investors, who are patiently applying capital to create new solutions to the world’s need for clean energy; and
3) The growing realization that public-private partnerships are essential for advanced clean energy concepts to be developed and deployed.
Naturally, nuclear professionals are excited about this opportunity, but they also recognize that the true challenge is to swiftly bring advanced reactor concepts into deployment.
Among the world’s seven billion people, less than one billion have all of the energy desired, and one billion people are energy poor. As John pointed out in his address at the American Nuclear Society, availability of energy in daily life is the single most significant driver of quality of life around the world. Energy poverty disproportionately affects developing countries, and within most countries this hardship disproportionately affects women. In his Annual Letter, Bill Gates wrote that “most scientists agree that by 2050 we’ll be using 50 percent more energy than we do today.” Moreover, we need energy growth to be from clean sources, or our goal of 2⁰C global temperature rise will not be achieved!
This challenge calls for great cooperation amongst nuclear professionals. Evolving advanced nuclear designs from concepts and models to construction will require intergenerational knowledge transfer, interdisciplinary collaboration, further supply chain development and effective public-private partnerships. Cost and schedule have always been critical for the economic success of a new build reactor. For advanced reactors, schedule urgency is now required not just for economic reasons, but also because safe, carbon-free advanced nuclear must be online by the 2030s to protect our planet as we bring energy to those who need it.
After 10 years of research and development, TerraPower is taking our traveling wave reactor into the engineering phase. We look forward to entering construction within the next five years. To accomplish this, we work closely with numerous universities, national laboratories and corporations in our research,
testing and prototyping. These partnerships open doors to information exchange and talent pools that will benefit the rapid deployment of advanced nuclear.
A new generation of talent ready to tackle advanced technology development and materials science stands ready just in time for a new generation of reactor technologies that will help to stem the tide of global warming. We must accelerate our talent if advanced nuclear is to be ready for a planet that needs it. TerraPower is taking these important steps, and we invite the rest of the industry to take on this challenge as well.