Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) is a type of conceptual nuclear reactor that theorists speculate can convert fertile material into fissile fuel as it runs using the process of nuclear transmutation. Traveling Wave Reactors could theoretically run, self-sustained, for decades without refueling or removing any used fuel from the reactor. Unlike traditional nuclear power reactors, the TWR can theoretically run forever without ever needing any additional enriched uranium after its startup period. This fleet could supply the world’s needs for energy for thousands of years without any need for chemical reprocessing of the used fuel. Traveling Wave Reactor is an advanced nuclear energy solution that presents a new path toward an affordable, safe form of carbon-free energy.

Traveling Wave Reactor - Nuclear Power ReactorTraveling Wave Reactors utilizes burning fuel made from depleted uranium, natural uranium, thorium, spent fuel removed from light water reactors, or some combination of these materials to generate power. Nuclear fission does not happen in the entire Traveling Wave Reactor core, but takes place in a fairly localized zone that advances through the core over time.

Unlike traditional nuclear reactors that rely on enriched uranium to produce power, the Traveling-Wave Reactor (TWR) can function, for the most part, on waste uranium, a byproduct of the current reactor design. Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR), initially needs only a relatively tiny amount of small igniter fissile fuel, which is used to kick off the chain reaction, but it then runs on the waste, making and consuming its own fuel. The fuel could be depleted uranium, U-238 form of the element that is currently set aside as waste when U-235 is taken out of natural uranium at enrichment plants. The benefit of this design is that the reactor doesn’t require constant refueling and waste removal. It can run for decades without refueling. This makes nuclear power safer and cheaper.

Traveling Wave Reactor - Nuclear Fuel CycleAs of 2011, Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) is a conceptual nuclear reactor being developed by TerraPower LLC. TerraPower’s traveling wave reactor (TWR) will offer a path to zero-emission, roliferation-resistant energy that produces significantly smaller amounts of nuclear waste than conventional nuclear reactors. TWRs can be fueled at the time of construction with a small amount, about 10 %, of enriched uranium fuel (U-235) to start the heat-producing nuclear reaction along with enough depleted uranium to produce full power for 60 years or more.

There are currently 700,000 metric tons of this low-level nuclear leftover product in the United States. Using a TWR, an 8-metric-ton canister of depleted uranium could generate 25 million megawatt-hours of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million U.S. households for one year.