The new nuclear age has officially begun. First President Obama announced $8 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power, and now Toshiba has teamed up with TerraPower, a Bill Gates-backed startup, to develop hot tub-sized nuclear reactors that only need to be refueled every 60 to 100 years.
Toshiba and TerraPower are working to make traveling wave reactors that use depleted uranium as fuel and can go as long as a century without needing to be refueled. In comparison, traditional light-water reactors need to refueled every several years. Bill Gates is so confident in the project that he plans to invest billions of dollars of his own money into building the reactor.
Still, there are hurdles to overcome — Toshiba and TerraPower have to develop materials that can withstand radiation for up to 100 years. But the pair anticipate that traveling wave reactors will be ready for commercialization in about 10 years. Toshiba is also building its own mini nuclear reactor, dubbed the 4s. The model will go on sale in 2014.