Earlier this week, it was announced that TerraPower, a startup with a design for a next-generation nuclear reactor, had raised a $35 million round of funding from Charles River Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and others, after raising what the company is calling a first round of (undisclosed) “tens of millions” of dollars in 2008.
Its vision is ambitious to say the least. To power its reactor — which will take another 10 years and billions more dollars to get built — TerraPower expects to use the depleted uranium waste created when uranium is enriched to run in conventional power plants. Not only would doing so dampen the risk of nuclear proliferation, says the company, but there is already enough depleted uranium in the world for its reactor to power the whole planet for 100 years.
Indeed, given the scope of TerraPower’s plans, it isn’t surprising that it’s the first spin-off of Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures, the 10-year-old company of Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s former chief technology officer.
Brainstorming revolutionary ideas, patenting them, then spinning them off into standalone companies is half of Intellectual Ventures’ reason for being. The other half, of course, is buying up tens of thousands of patents that are then used to protect royalties-paying customers from being sued, including, reportedly, Cisco, Intuit, Verizon, Google and Apple. (Theoretically, Intellectual Ventures could also start creating infringement lawsuits. It hasn’t done so, but according the The Recorder, it has begun selling some of its unneeded patents to organizations that aren’t afraid to sue.)