September 28, 2022

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TerraPower wins $8.5M federal grant for nuclear fuel recovery

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TerraPower test assembly
A panoramic view of TerraPower’s laboratory in Bellevue, Wash., Shows a full-scale fuel assembly test stand at the center of the frame – with lab facility manager Brian Morris pointing out details toward the left of the frame. The circle that’s painted on the floor indicates how big the nuclear containment vessel would be. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – TerraPower, the Bellevue-based nuclear power venture co-founded by Bill Gates, has won an $ 8.55 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to work on safer methods to recover uranium from used nuclear fuel.

TerraPower’s recycling process is among 11 projects that will receive a total of $ 36 million in federal funding from the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. The grants are aimed at supporting technologies that would limit the amount of waste produced by advanced nuclear reactors.

“Developing novel approaches to safely manage nuclear waste will enable us to power even more homes and businesses in America with carbon-free nuclear energy,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said today in a news release. “ARPA-E is doing just that by supporting companies and universities that are working on next-generation technologies to modernize advanced reactors and strengthen the nation’s clean energy enterprise.”

TerraPower’s grant is the largest of the 11 announced today for ARPA-E’s ONWARDS program. The acronym stands for “Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems.”

Among other things, TerraPower’s method would harness the volatility of chloride salts at high temperatures during a key step in the uranium recovery process. Work would begin with surrogate nuclear fuel, and progress to a demonstration with actual oxide-based fuel.

If the method works as expected, the amount of nuclear waste going to repositories could be reduced by a factor of 10 or more, TerraPower says.

TerraPower’s main mission is to develop technologies for nuclear fission reactors that are considered safer and more efficient for carbon-free power generation. Gates was one of the TerraPower’s founders in 2006, and still serves as its chairman.

The company is working with GE-Hitachi on a nuclear demonstration demonstration that’s due to be built in Wyoming and go into operation by 2028, producing up to 500 megawatts of power.

In addition to working on the reactor concept, TerraPower has a program that focuses on medical applications of nuclear technology – applications that could make use of spent nuclear fuel.

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