Nuclear startup TerraPower, which is backed by Bill Gates, now has a massive Indian conglomerate on its side: Reliance Industries. According to Business Week, Reliance Industries, which owns oil, telecom and retail businesses, has invested a minority stake in TerraPower through one of its energy units.
Reliance is run by billionaire Chairman Mukesh Ambani (I drove by his billion-dollar house in Mumbai last week) and the company is one of the largest in India.
TerraPower has managed to start building relationships with companies globally, including with the governments of China, India and Russia, and Japanese giant Toshiba. If you have Bill Gates as one of your liaisons, doors tend to open. TerraPower’s backers told me the company will likely commercialize its technology first outside of the U.S.
TerraPower’s other backers include Khosla Ventures — Vinod Khosla’s venture fund — Charles River Ventures, Gates himself and the investors at Intellectual Ventures, which is an invention think tank founded by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold (related: “From Microsoft to nuclear, 10 questions for Nathan Myhrvold”).
TerraPower is actually a spin-off from Myhrvold’s incubator, and the company is building nuclear traveling wave reactor technology, which is a relatively new type of small nuclear reactor design that can use the waste byproduct of the enrichment process, or waste uranium, for fuel. Traveling wave nuclear reactors have been under development since the 1990s, but TerraPower is one of the first companies to develop a practical design for the technology. (See “6 nuclear power startups to watch” and “Nuclear power by the numbers.”)