Bill Gates’ TerraPower and GE Hitachi team up on proposal to build a new nuclear reactor for research

Alan Boyle
This cutaway graphic shows the design of the Versatile Test Reactor. (DOE Illustration)

TerraPower, the nuclear energy venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., is collaborating with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in pursuit of a public-private partnership to design and construct the Versatile Test Reactor for the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • The VTR would address the Energy Department’s need for a research reactor that could test materials, fuels and other components for next-generation nuclear power systems, at higher neutron energies and neutron fluxes than what is available today. The Idaho National Laboratory leads the consortium that’s in charge of the project — and the team also includes the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
  • TerraPower and GE Hitachi recently submitted a joint response to the call for cost-sharing partnerships, put out by the Battelle Energy Alliance on behalf of the Energy Department. “To achieve nuclear energy’s full potential, business and government must work together to invest in both testing new materials and demonstrating advanced technologies,” TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque said today in a news release. GE Hitachi has already been engaged in developing the VTR conceptual design, and TerraPower has supported the program by making enhancements to the design.
  • Energy Northwest, a utility consortium with nuclear plant operating experience, will support the GE Hitachi-TerraPower effort, and additional companies and investors could be brought on board later. Over the weeks and months ahead, the Energy Department will work out the next steps in consultation with interested parties. A decision on whether to proceed with a fast-spectrum test reactor at the selected site is expected in mid-2021, and completion of the project could come as early as 2026.

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