SK Group, one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates, has announced that it will invest in nuclear power. SK is then interested in SMRs. Among the potential candidates is Terra Power, founded by Bill Gates.
SK is considering investing in TerraPower
Founded in 2006, TerraPower designs small modular reactors (SMRs) and plans to build its first reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming, by 2028. The project is estimated to cost $4 billion. It is expected to begin in 2024 according to the company.
A spokesperson for the SK Group confirms that TerraPower is a potential investment. However, details remain to be worked out, such as the size of the investment, partnerships, and the company’s share.
This interest in SMR and TerraPower comes as SK Group CEO Chey Tae-won has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions by 200 million metric tons by 2030. This figure, according to the Korean group, is about 1% of the global carbon elimination target by 2030.
In addition, the president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, has announced his support for nuclear power. In 2021, nuclear power generated 27% of South Korea’s electricity. There has been a change in the country’s energy policy, as Moon Jae-in is opposed to nuclear power.
Japan, a partner of TerraPower
The Korean chaebol is not the only one interested in TerraPower. The Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) as well as the industrialist Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), has already announced an agreement with the American firm.
The Japanese group has announced that it is participating in the development of the fourth generation reactor. In addition, it must provide technical support. Through this collaboration the group intends to :
“Drawing from it the expertise and know-how needed to advance nuclear innovation in Japan.”
Relaunching Japanese nuclear power
Since 2011, and Fukushima, the Japanese subsidiary has been struggling to get back on its feet. Following the devastation of the earthquake and the tsunami, the country was forced to shut down its nuclear power plant. Today, only 10 reactors have restarted after extensive work. 50 reactors are still shut down, half of them will never restart.
Thus, by partnering with TerraPower, the government hopes to revive the Japanese nuclear industry. The latter allows it to reduce its GHG emissions while ensuring its energy independence.
TerraPower develops an innovative project
TerraPower’s project is half funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Its objective is to build a sodium-cooled fast reactor. In addition, the so-called “fast-breeder” technology should make it possible to reuse the plutonium from the used fuel.
This cooling system, Natrium, features an innovative energy storage system. By replacing water with sodium, which has a higher boiling point, the use of pressurized coolant is avoided. Thus, it is possible to reduce the cost of the installation.
Its power would be of the order of 345 MW. However, the Natrium power plant can quickly increase or decrease its total power output, allowing it to adapt as needed.
Bill Gates bets on nuclear power for the energy transition
Bill Gates is becoming increasingly involved in the nuclear sector. He has led TerraPower since its inception in 2006. He sees nuclear power as a way to achieve carbon neutrality. Thus, it multiplies investments in companies of the sector.
In 2020, TerraPower is partnering with Bechtel to design the Natrium reactor. TerraPower is working with the company on the design, procurement and construction of power plants under a federal grant.
In addition, in 2021, Bill Gates is investing in Ambri, a leader in the battery industry. These offer a long autonomy but also a high resilience. Thus, these batteries reduce the cost of electricity. The billionaire’s investment is aimed at developing long-term energy storage on a global scale.
In sum, Bill Gates’ activity underscores his commitment to nuclear innovation. This, combined with his project, seems to have attracted the attention of the SK Group. If the South Korean consortium is considering an investment, nothing has been decided yet.