One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s…Affordable, Safe Form of Carbon-Free Energy

I listened to this podcast this morning on my way to work, and though it originally “aired” more than five months ago, the ideas were as fresh as ever.

Well, kind of fresh. Granted, TerraPower has been around for more than four years, and traveling-wave reactors were first proposed way back in the 1950s, but when issues of nuclear waste are piling up around the country, the energy surrounding the company certainly seem timely.

But let me back up. In this particular podcast, titled “Weird Recycling,” our beloved host Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame) takes us to meet mathematician, physicist, inventor, and food scientist Nathan Myrhvold, who joined forces with Bill Gates and others to found the aforementioned TerraPower – a company that “began as a series of explorations related to many energy technologies.” Out of these explorations “came an advanced nuclear energy solution that presents a new path toward an affordable, safe form of carbon-free energy.”

Specifically, that solution means using traveling wave reactor technology to turn depleted uranium (a waste byproduct of the production of enriched uranium for use in nuclear reactors) into an inexpensive, stable, zero-emissions, inexhaustible power source, according to TerraPower.

Could this make our “national nuclear garbage can” a moot issue? Potentially – though we’ll have to wait a few years. A technical adviser for TerraPower is quoted in the New York Times:

“We’ve had conversations with the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians, the French, [where a pilot plant may be built]” Reynolds said in an interview. “We have an aggressive schedule where we think it is important to get something built and accumulate data so that we can eventually build them in the U.S. Breaking ground in 2015, with a startup in 2020, is more aggressive than our current [U.S.] regulatory structure can support.”

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