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Gates-backed nuclear outfit TerraPower funded

TerraPower, which counts Bill Gates as an investor, raises $35 million in venture funding to pursue an alternative nuclear-power technology.

TerraPower, a company seeking to commercialize a novel nuclear-power technology which has the enthusiastic backing of Bill Gates, has raised $35 million in venture funding.

Seattle-based TerraPower said on Monday that Charles River Ventures led the series B round, which also had money from Khosla Ventures.

Rather than split enriched uranium, a traveling-wave reactor uses depleted uranium as a fuel source, which is turned into a fuel with a "fast-moving" neutron. Intellectual Ventures, TerraPower

TerraPower was spun out of Intellectual Ventures, the intellectual-property licensing company headed by Nathan Myryvold, to commercialize traveling-wave nuclear reactors.

The basic idea behind traveling-wave reactors is to use a small amount of enriched uranium and spent uranium fuel from traditional nuclear-power plants to produce electricity. Rather than needing to refuel every several years, these reactors would be able to operate for decades without refueling.

Although the idea of this alternative nuclear-power technology has been around for decades, it has never been done commercially and faces a number of technical, financial, and regulatory barriers.

The CEO of TerraPower, John Gilleland, was approached by Intellectual Ventures to see if a start-up could bring a nuclear-energy technology to market rapidly, Gilleland told Xconomy in March.

The company's goal is to have a working machine by 2020, which would be extremely fast by nuclear-power industry standards. To speed development of the technology, the company has used high-end supercomputers to simulate operation of the nuclear reactors.

Gates invested in 3-year-old TerraPower and has often cited the company as an example of technology innovation that needs to happen in energy to reduce carbon emissions.

Khosla Ventures, headed by famed venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, counts Gates as one of its limited partners who have invested in Khosla Venture's green-tech fund.

TerraPower has reportedly gotten interest from Japanese conglomerate Toshiba to develop an advanced reactor. Before building a full-scale reactor, the company hopes to build a prototype.