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SK Inc. and SK Innovation invest $250 million in TerraPower

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Bill Gates [YONHAP]

SK Inc. and 33.4-percent-owned SK Innovation have invested $250 million into TerraPower, a Bellevue, Washington company that develops nuclear reactors.

The two companies are part of a $750 million round of funding.

While not disclosing the breakdown of the investment between the two companies or the ownership stakes they will be receiving in exchange for their commitments, the companies said that they are lead investors along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

“We are committed to supporting TerraPower’s global deployment of game-changing products,” Kim Moo-hwan, an SK Inc. executive vice president, said in a statement.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has given the investment the green light, according to a statement released by SK Inc.  

TerraPower has received money from a number of investors and has received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

One of the original investors in the company was Cascade Investment, in which Gates is an investor. Gates, who is chairman of the board of TerraPower, arrived in Korea on Monday.

Gates is meeting with President Yoon Suk-yeol and is giving a lecture at the National Assembly on Aug. 16.

In May, SK Inc. and SK Innovation signed a memorandum of understanding with TerraPower for the development, construction, and marketing of Small Modular Reactors (SMR).

“We aim to take part in TerraPower’s SMR projects in Korea and Southeast Asia with a goal of achieving carbon neutrality and producing electricity without carbon emissions,” the company said in the statement.  

In designing the smaller reactors, TerraPower has developed a technology using liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water. Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors (SFR) are designed to be more efficient and safer than other architectures.  

TerraPower plans to start marketing SFR reactors in 2028.

Nuclear power is growing again in popularity, after years of being heavily criticized by environmental groups, as it doesn’t directly produce greenhouse gases and has higher energy efficiency than renewables like solar and wind power.  

“TerraPower is committed to solving some of the toughest challenges that face this generation through innovation,” said TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque.  

Developers of SMRs claim they are less risky than conventional nuclear reactors.

SMRs refer to the reactors that can produce 300 megawatts of power or less, compared to the average of about 1 gigawatt for conventional reactors. Manufactured as units, SMRs are believed to have greater scalability and siting flexibility.

Other Korean companies are betting big on SMRs.  

GS Energy, Doosan Enerbility, and Samsung C&T have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NuScale Power, a U.S. company with expertise in SMR technology, for the construction and operation of SMRs.

Another area of possible business development is medicine. TerraPower is on track to develop cancer treatment using Actinium-225, a medical radioisotope that could be harvested from nuclear power generation.

“SK is looking for different business opportunities with TerraPower and bio companies invested by SK in areas such as treatment development or contract manufacturing,” the statement read.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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