Comments on TerraPower’s Travelling Wave Reactor (printable PDF version here)
By Dr George S. Stanford. George is is a nuclear reactor physicist, part of the team that developed the Integral Fast Reactor. He is now retired from Argonne National Laboratory after a career of experimental work pertaining to power-reactor safety. He is the co-author of Nuclear Shadowboxing: Contemporary Threats from Cold War Weaponry.
We hear from time to time about the Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) that is being developed by TerraPower, an organization sponsored by Bill Gates. The developers are keeping many of the technical details to themselves. However, from the available info about the TWR, one can make some ball-park calculations. Some assumptions are necessary, because better numbers have not, to my knowledge, been revealed. If anyone has better info, please come forward.
Fact 1: In generating 1 GWe-yr of energy, any nuclear reactor necessarily fissions about 1 tonne of heavy metal, creating 1 tonne of fission products.
Fact 2: The TWR is based on the technology of the IFR (Integral Fast Reactor), developed at Argonne National Laboratory in the ’80s and ’90s — it uses metallic fuel and is cooled by liquid sodium. In effect, the TWR is a very large IFR (in size, not in GWe) that forgoes reprocessing, storing its fission products in the used part of the core (behind the traveling wave). This pushes the disposal problem perhaps 60 or more years into the future. Unlike the IFR, the TWR does not completely burn its fuel, and leaves behind a mixture of transuranic actinides — which perhaps eventually could be recycled (not clear).
Fact 3: In commercial readiness, the TWR is at least a decade or two behind the IFR.