The UK Guardian reports that Bill Gates and China are in early discussions to jointly develop a new safe nuclear reactor which would run on depleted uranium.

TerraPower, a company Gates is financing, is developing a “traveling wave” nuclear reactor which in addition to running on recycled uranium, would produce just small amounts of nuclear waste.

“The idea is to be very low-cost, very safe and generate very little waste,” Gates told China’s Ministry of Science and Technology at a meeting.

“All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe,” Gates told the audience. “They require no human action to remain safe at all times.”

After an initial start-up with a small amount of low-enriched material, we are told the reactor could run for decades on depleted uranium – a waste byproduct of the uranium enrichment process.  Large amounts of depleted uranium, useless to today’s reactors, already exist in stockpiles around the world. Stocks of this material grow as uranium is enriched for the refueling of conventional reactors. There are currently 700,000 metric tons of this low-level nuclear leftover product in the US alone.

The traveling wave reactor directly converts depleted uranium to usable fuel as it operates. As a result, this inexpensive but energy-rich fuel source could provide a global electricity supply for several decades.

TerraPower, co-founded by Gates several years ago, is working on the idea of new technologies with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Gates said the development of the new reactor design may require investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years, and demonstration plans and construction would cost “billions”.

See also China Daily: Bill Gates envisions nuclear future for China


 UPDATE   with h/t Fred

Bill Gates has been talking to several countries about his project, including energy experts in the U.S., France, India, Japan, Korea and Russia, but that “there were no deals to at this time.” TerraPower’s plan is to start construction of a plant in 2015 and have its first plant operating in the 2020s.

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