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Bill Gates’ company raises record funds for advanced nuclear

 

The funds include $250 million from South Korea’s investment firm SK Inc and tech company SK Innovation, which is building a $2.6 billion battery plant in Georgia. The companies said the money will boost TerraPower’s work in commercializing advanced nuclear technologies, which the nuclear and electric utility industry are eyeing to meet the nation’s climate goals.

The Biden administration is aiming for the U.S. power sector to decarbonize by 2035 and has set a 2050 net-zero carbon goal for the rest of the nation. Congress has approved a wide range of incentives for existing and developing reactors in the bipartisan infrastructure law and the landmark “Inflation Reduction Act,” which President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign into law today.

 

TerraPower is among several startup companies that are using public-private partnerships to develop next-generation nuclear technology.

 

“TerraPower is committed to solving some of the toughest challenges that face this generation through innovation,” said Chris Levesque, company president and CEO, in a statement.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based company is developing a sodium-cooled fast reactor with its trademarked Natrium SFR technology. Separately, the company is developing a demonstration reactor on a shuttering coal plant site in Wyoming.

The demonstration reactor is partially backed by the Energy Department’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program and has a commercial operation date of 2028. One requirement of the DOE award is that developers match 50 percent of the project’s costs up to $2 billion.

TerraPower also is working with Atlanta-based energy giant Southern Co. to build a small experimental nuclear reactor in Idaho.

“Nuclear energy is obviously clean and super reliable, and if we keep improving the commercial outlook with massive investments like this, we will be in good shape for building and deploying the next generation of reactors,” said Niko McMurray, managing director of policy at ClearPath.

“The bipartisan Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program is helping get the technology kickstarted and the private sector will enable the industry to scale up,” said McMurray, a former member of the NRC’s staff.

In a 2019 blog post, Gates wrote that TerraPower’s plans to build a reactor in China was “unlikely” because of Trump administration-era trade battles with China that would prevent the nation’s use of civil nuclear power for military or “unauthorized” use.

For SK’s part, the investment will enable the company to join TerraPower’s nuclear reactor commercialization projects in Korea and Southeast Asia and supply carbon-free power, spearheading the shift to carbon neutrality, the company said in a news release.

 

What’s more, it will allow SK to boost its working relationship with TerraPower by combining the company’s next-generation nuclear technology and therapeutic radioisotope production capability with SK’s diverse energy and biotech portfolios, a SK spokesperson said in a statement.

“We see important synergies in our businesses and this investment reinforces our strategic global carbon reduction goals,” said Moohwan Kim, executive vice president and head of the Green Investment Center at SK Inc.

SK Innovation’s Georgia factory helped launch the Peach State into the electric vehicle industry.

But its future — and the Biden administration’s EV goals — was in doubt a year ago when South Korean rival LG Chem became concerned that SK Innovation stole trade secrets about its battery technologies and obstructed U.S. International Trade Commission investigators .

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