SK invests in Bill Gates' TerraPower to accelerate transition to net zero

SK Group is South Korea’s third-largest conglomerate with major operating companies in semiconductors, telecommunications, energy and life sciences. (PRNewsfoto/SK Group)

  • SK Inc. and SK Innovation become a large investor in TerraPower, a next-generation SMR developer, founded by Bill Gates
  • SMR has become a safe and economically viable option in the carbon-free energy mix
  • The investment comes after SK’s yearlong search for partnership opportunities to support SK Group’s pledge to contribute to achieving the global carbon emission reduction target; The partnership is set to take SK a step closer to the completion of its green energy portfolio
  • TerraPower also has technologies to produce medical radioisotopes, which have potential synergies with SK’s biotech business

NEW YORK, Aug. 15, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — SK Inc. and SK Innovation (collectively, “SK”) invested in a next-generation small modular reactor (SMR) developer, stepping up their efforts to reduce global carbon emissions. The investment is likely to provide a boost to SK Group’s strategy for the early achievement of net-zero emissions as well as group-wide efforts to build a green energy portfolio in an initiative proposed by SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won.

SK announced on August 16 that SK and Bill Gates co-led $750 million in fundraising for TerraPower, a US-based SMR developer. With the close of a $250 million investment, SK has become a large shareholder of TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates. The equity investment will enable SK to join TerraPower’s nuclear reactor commercialization projects in Korea and Southeast Asia and supply carbon-free power, spearheading the shift to carbon neutrality. 

Founded in 2008 by Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, TerraPower is a leading nuclear innovation company with the capability to design sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), a type of advanced nuclear reactors.

TerraPower’s Natrium™ SFR technology transfers the heat released from nuclear fission caused by high-speed neutrons to liquid sodium coolant, during which steam is generated and used to produce electricity. The Natrium SFR, a fourth-generation nuclear energy technology, offers significant improvements in safety and economic performance compared to the previous generation of reactors, which are currently in use. Natrium also employs molten salt energy storage, allowing the reactor to quickly change its power, thus making it ideal for operating with renewable generation sources. TerraPower is recognized as a leader in the advanced SMR sector with technologies to dramatically reduce nuclear waste and secure a high level of safety. In addition, TerraPower is building a demonstration reactor in the United States, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), with a goal to begin operation in 2028.

The transaction represents one of the largest-ever investments in a single company in the advanced nuclear power industry and will accelerate TerraPower’s development of innovative technologies and ongoing projects.

SK’s investment in TerraPower comes after a yearlong search for partners, since SK Group pledged to achieve a net-zero footprint as part of the global initiative to address climate change. In 2021, SK Group vowed to reduce 200 million tons of carbon emissions by 2030, which accounts for 1% of the global target, and has highlighted SMR as a competitive, safe, and carbon-free energy source. The longstanding commitment to carbon emission reduction and continued search for partnership opportunities have led to investments in a global energy pioneer, taking SK a step closer to completing its green energy portfolio.  

Aside from SMR, TerraPower also has technologies to produce the medical radioisotope actinium-225 (Ac-225). Ac-225 is one of the most promising radionuclide raw materials that is being incorporated into investigational products by drug developers for targeted alpha therapy (TAT), which can kill targeted cancer cells while sparing normal cells. SK is set to identify a wide range of business opportunities in the bio pharmaceutical sector from drug discovery to contract manufacturing organization (CMO) by leveraging synergies with biotech firms that it has invested in. 

“SK intends to amplify the synergies with TerraPower by bringing together TerraPower’s innovative, next-generation nuclear technology and production capability for therapeutic radioisotopes with SK’s diverse energy and biotech portfolios,” said an SK spokesperson. Along with its investments in TerraPower, SK plans to continue its business innovation and technology development to contribute to reducing global carbon emissions.

Moohwan Kim, Executive Vice President and Head of Green Investment Center at SK Inc. noted that, “SK is excited to expand our energy, technology and bioscience investments with leading companies in the U.S. We are committed to supporting TerraPower’s global deployment of game changing products. We see important synergies in our businesses and this investment reinforces our strategic global carbon reduction goals.”

“TerraPower is committed to solving some of the toughest challenges that face this generation through innovation,” said TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque. “Whether it’s addressing climate change with carbon-free advanced nuclear energy, or fighting cancer with nuclear isotopes, our team is deploying technology solutions and investors across the world are taking note.”

*Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP acted as outside corporate and nuclear regulatory counsel to SK.

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SOURCE SK Group

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