A nuclear research facility is about to open in Everett

TerraPower, an energy firm founded by Bill Gates, will open a 65,000-square-foot lab near Paine Field.

A diagram of TerraPower’s planned Traveling Wave Reactor (TerraPower)

A diagram of TerraPower’s planned Traveling Wave Reactor (TerraPower)

EVERETT — TerraPower, an energy company started by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, will open a 65,000-square-foot research facility in south Everett near Paine Field.

The Bellevue-based firm aims to develop nuclear power generation systems that can use nuclear waste as fuel.

“In addition to energy and climate solutions, we are exploring ways to miniaturize cancer treatments to preserve the healthy tissue near it,” Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s CEO, told The Daily Herald.

The company expects to employ about 100 workers at the site, including people in engineering, testing, project management, quality, safety and lab operations, Levesque said.

“It’s great to be a part of Everett’s industrial base where there is such a concentration of talented professionals,” Levesque said.

The company’s new laboratory space at 3315 Seaway Blvd. in Everett represents a five-fold increase, TerraPower said in a company web post. The company is using supercomputers to model, test and refine designs for nuclear generation systems and medical therapy.

“We are using this space to test components for new types of reactors to produce carbon-free electricity and designing ways to use heat in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels,” said Levesque.

The company thinks the earlier era of civilian nuclear energy laid the groundwork for carbon-free electricity production.

Nuclear power does not emit carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases, so it is considered a carbon-free source.

Among several projects, TerraPower is developing a Traveling Wave Reactor that is designed to use depleted uranium as fuel.

If successful, the traveling wave reactor would deliver nuclear energy for heat and electricity “in a safer and more cost-efficient manner than existing nuclear power plants while producing less waste … and run continuously for decades without refueling on depleted uranium — the waste byproduct of the uranium enrichment process,” the company says on its website.

TerraPower had planned to build a demonstration of the traveling wave reactor in China by the mid-2020s. But the effort was halted at the end of 2018 as a result of trade disputes between Washington, D.C., and Beijing. The company has since said it plans to build prototypes in the U.S.

About 60% of America’s electrical power comes from fossil fuels — coal and natural gas, the remainder is generated by renewables (17%) and nuclear plants (19%), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At the annual state of Everett address Thursday, sponsored by Economic Alliance Snohomish County and the Boeing Co., Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin welcomed TerraPower, saying it is “bringing cutting-edge nuclear science to Everett.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097. Twitter: JanicePods.

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