Technology visionary Bill Gates is actively backing a new approach to nuclear power that he believes will play a huge role in our energy future. The technology being developed by TerraPower, where Gates serves as chairman, will run on depleted uranium fuel, addressing the waste issue head on and creating energy safely and cleanly, backers say. We recently caught up with John Gilleland, chief executive officer of TerraPower, at an industry gathering. We discussed his past work on international fusion research and the future of nuclear energy.
ENERGYBIZ: What are the relative strengths of fusion versus fission for future nuclear technology?
Gilleland: If you compare the potential of fusion to fission, the differences aren’t as great as they used to be. For example, this particular concept I’m working on now has essentially an infinite fuel supply. Thirty years ago, people thought we would run out of uranium.
ENERGYBIZ: As you know, there is an international research effort on fusion called ITER in south France. Might a similar multinational approach work with the Terra Power project?
Gilleland: We’re already setting it up. But we’re way ahead of where fusion is. And it should be managed in that sort of strict way that a real construction project is managed. ITER is managed so that each country gets to participate in building one of lots of things. And it’s much more of a management challenge for them.
ENERGYBIZ: Today, shale gas and slack demand for power is making it difficult to finance new nuclear projects. If your design is ready in the 2020s, do you think the power industry will want to deploy it?
Gilleland: I think so. We’ve done a lot of talking about it around the world. It has to do with the basic exportability. You have something that can be placed in a country and just used. Their fuel supply is guaranteed and it has this high degree of inherent safety. To quote one professor in South Korea, “It’s the one responsible way to place nuclear plants all over the world.” It takes the pretense out of the proliferation issue, and it puts two more layers onto safety. The world will be ready for that because the world will need the base load energy. There are a lot of big corporations that would love to get behind and push it.
We will be providing extensive coverage of the future of nuclear power in the May/June issue of EnergyBiz.
For more on TerraPower and Gilleland, read: