What is the smallest reactor from TerraPower

Terrapower: Golem.de tests Bill Gates' mini nuclear power plant (update)

After the expansion of renewable energies was hindered for years by politics, business and many a citizens' initiative, Microsoft founder Bill Gates comes up in his book "How we can prevent the climate catastrophe" now with a solution to our energy problems that we would not have expected: miniature nuclear power plants.

The idea is reminiscent of the 1950s, when a bright future was predicted for nuclear power, which was supposed to supply everything from cars to single-family homes with energy. Now this vision could partially come true - and we had the opportunity to test a first preliminary model of an SMR power plant (Small Modular Reactor). Because Bill Gates not only advertises nuclear power in his new book, he also founded Terrapower in 2008, a nuclear company that develops corresponding power plants.

A nuclear power plant is ultimately just a computer

At the beginning there were some heated discussions in the editorial office about questions like: What does a test of a nuclear power plant have to do with "IT news for professionals" to do? Or: Isn't that too big and too dangerous? But like modern cars, a modular nuclear power plant also consists primarily of a computer, hardware and software - and some uranium.

To ensure the security of the device and the test, we involved our colleagues from IT security. The concerns about the size were also quickly dispelled: in fact, the smallest preliminary model is not much larger than a conventional PC tower. It does not require cooling towers or the like, active cooling is already built in. So we requested a test device from Terrapower.

  1. ulrich GmbH & Co. KG, Ulm
  2. FMP Claims Management Potsdam GmbH, Potsdam

The delivery of the device takes a little longer and is a little more complicated than usual for test devices. But well, it's also a mini nuclear power plant, you can't send it with DHL or TNT. Ultimately, a private shipping company with security delivers the device to us. We have to sign several forms, including an assumption of risk. This doesn't leave you feeling good at first.

A handy nuclear power plant

Then we hold a nuclear power plant in our hands for the first time, which is actually not a problem with a weight of around 20 kg. The metal housing looks valuable, the matt black paintwork timeless. However, the preliminary model is not yet the final design, as Terrapower spokeswoman Irene Kraft emphasizes to Golem.de.

In addition to Kraft, the developer and nuclear physicist Dr. Michael Olberman present, who is supposed to introduce the device to us and explain how it is put into operation. This is actually not particularly complicated. Although the power plant itself generates electricity, it must first be connected to the electricity grid. Because in order to start the reaction in the power plant, you initially need a boost, as Olberman explains.

How we can prevent the climate catastrophe: What solutions are there and what progress is necessary

Then we are allowed to switch on the device for the first time. A tone reminiscent of the start of a Windows PC sounds and the fans begin to whir softly. In addition to flashing lights and the sound, you don't see ... at first nothing.

Because the mini power plant must first be set up. To do this, we first scan a QR code on the device with the Android smartphone supplied. Then we have to enter our WiFi password and the initialization begins. The setup feels a lot like a smart home device.

The establishment itself therefore raises our first security concerns: The Internet of Things (IoT) is not exactly known for its security. Some joke that the S in IoT stands for security.

But Olberman dispels our concerns, for now. The device can be accessed via the Internet and can also be configured remotely, but the atomic core is hermetically separated from the Internet and can neither be controlled by it nor by the users or the administration interface.

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