Japanese Mitsubishi and energy body join Gates nuclear project

TOKYO (AP) — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency have signed an agreement to participate in a next-generation nuclear power project with TerraPower, a company created by Bill Gates.

The memorandum of understanding signed on Wednesday calls for cooperation in the development of advanced nuclear technologies, Mitsubishi Heavy said.

Located in Kemmerer, in the desert highlands of western Wyoming, the demonstration project will use an unconventional sodium-cooled nuclear reactor. He will hire workers from a local coal-fired power station which is due to close soon.

MHI, one of Japan’s largest industrial conglomerates, said it will explore ways to provide technical support and develop the reactor.

“MHI will also bring back the expertise and knowledge gained through this partnership to help advance nuclear innovation in Japan,” the company said in a statement.

The US nuclear industry has stalled, providing 20% ​​of the country’s electricity for a decade amid the long and costly process of building huge conventional nuclear power plants.

Japan’s atomic energy sector has been in crisis since the collapses of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant on its northeast coast following a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. But its government sees nuclear energy as essential to achieving net zero carbon emissions to combat climate change.

TerraPower plans to make its plant useful for today’s growing renewable energy grid. A salt heat “battery” will allow the plant to increase electricity production on demand, compensating for power drops when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

The start of the plant is years away — 2028 according to current planning.

The approach is not new. Russia has used a commercial sodium-cooled reactor at full capacity since 2016, and such designs have been tested elsewhere in the United States.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, an alliance between GE and Japan’s Hitachi, worked with TerraPower to develop the project’s sodium fast reactor and molten salt energy storage system.

Mitsubishi Heavy said the agreement with TerraPower will facilitate joint and broader efforts on the development of fast reactor technology.

Gates, the famed co-founder of Microsoft, launched TerraPower in Bellevue, Washington in 2008 and serves as chairman of its board.

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