On Feb. 17, Babcock & Wilcox Co. (B&W) and TerraPower announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to support the development of the traveling wave reactor (TWR).

The TWR is a Generation IV commercial reactor design that uses depleted uranium as fuel. The 1,150-MW liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor is different from typical light water reactors because it is able to operate for an extended period using only uranium 238 (U-238) rather than uranium 235 (U-235).

In the past, U-238—a by-product of the enrichment process—had been set aside as waste. The new design could enable a TWR to get up to 50 times more energy out of every pound of mined uranium than could otherwise have been utilized with conventional light water reactor technology.

B&W expects to provide TerraPower with support in many areas, including design and fabrication, fuel services, engineering, operations support, licensing, and testing. It appears that B&W will also continue working on its other nuclear development project, mPower, which is a Generation III++ small, modular reactor (SMR) based on pressurized water reactor technology and standard fuel enriched to 5% U-235.

The TWR and SMR are not the only new nuclear design technologies under development. Prior to the Fukushima disaster, the nuclear industry was flush with new ideas. Now Generation IV designs seem to be picking up steam again.

“We have a long tradition of providing industry leading engineering, manufacturing and services and look forward to supporting TerraPower and to participating in the development of the next generation technology,” said Joe Zwetolitz, president of B&W Nuclear Energy Inc.

“This MOU with B&W makes it possible for us to tap the nuclear industry’s excellence and keep American companies active in the international supply chain for advanced nuclear energy technologies,” Doug Adkisson, senior vice president for TerraPower added.

If all goes as planned, the partners will utilize fast reactor technology, high-performance computing simulations, and real testing in current fast reactor test facilities to make the TWR concept a reality.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)