Employees of the Idaho National Lab were on alert for a V.I.P. visit Oct. 23. It wasn't a government contractor that was coming through; it was someone a lot more important and with much deeper pockets.
INL officials confirmed that billionaire Bill Gates visited INL's Materials and Fuels Complex to talk up his nuclear reactor startup company: TerraPower. In particular Gates, and his investors, are looking for INL's "engagement" to "support certain aspects of design" of something called a "traveling wave reactor."
Unlike existing nuclear reactors, a traveling wave reactor burns fuel from depleted uranium, a waste byproduct of the enrichment process. The traveling wave reactor gradually converts the material through a nuclear reaction, without removing the fuel from the reactor's core, a process that developers say can be sustained indefinitely while generating heat and producing electricity.
"Our work with INL is singularly important," Gates told employees of the East Idaho facility. "Getting to visit INL was really enlightening. It was amazing to see reactor fuel analysis and how it can be conducted safely in a hot cell environment."
TerraPower, headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., is a privately funded company which says its mission is to "advance scalable, sustainable, low-carbon and cost-competitive energy solutions."