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Posted by Mark Halper

“Nuclear innovation stopped in the 1970s.”

 

Bill Gates has been making nuclear headlines over the last few days after the told a gathering of international energy executives near Denver that solar and wind technologies won’t cut it as a source of baseload power, and that the U.S. government should fund nuclear research and development.

His remarks were reported by Reuters and have been widely picked up – including here on the Weinberg blog.

I thought it would make sense to bring you some more detail of his thinking. To do so, I’ve reached back to April 2010, when Gates delivered a convincing pro-nuclear presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that conveys the same message as his Colorado remarks (MIT is the same university, incidentally, which is home to President Obama’s pro-nuclear nominee for Energy Secretary, physicist Ernest Moniz).

In his MIT speech, presented about a year before the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, Gates advocates not simply for nuclear, but for new, alternative nuclear technologies, such as the breeder reactor under development at the company that the Microsoft billionaire co-founded, called TerraPower. He even gives some lip service to molten salt reactors, even if he doesn’t seem enamored of them.

“Nuclear is one of the directions that we should innovate in,” he says, a little less than four minutes into the clip. “Nuclear innovation stopped in the 1970s. We basically have this sub (submarine) designed thing that was put into Shippingport (Shippingport, Pa.) for the first power generator and we basically built 400 of those that are all kind of custom but not in any interesting way. They’re all LWRs (light water reactors)  and PWRs (pressurized water reactors) and the industry did not innovate much at all. There’s this third generation passive safety AP 1000, but except for that they didn’t do much.”

CUTE SOLAR

Gates points out that the energy per atom from nuclear fuel “is about a million times better than coal or natural gas.” But without the development of new types of nuclear power, the industry will struggle to take advantage of that in an economically competitive fashion, he notes.

Reactors like TerraPower’s and like molten salt reactors can burn fuel more efficiently and safely than do conventional reactors, can use nuclear waste as fuel, and leave less waste.

I encourage you to watch the entire video – it’s less than eight minutes – to hear Gates’ analysis of solar and wind which he calls “cute up to a point,” of the material science problems associated with the “damn neutrons” in his own reactor, and the  even greater materials challenges facing fusion developers.

“If you look at the fusion guys, their neutrons are like a thousand times worse than our neutrons,” says Gates. “Those guys have 14 MeV neutrons – good luck to them.”

As a popular New York sportscaster used to say, let’s go to the video. It was posted by the Washington, D.C.-based  Nuclear Energy Institute, which calls it “I Love Nuclear” (words Gates actually uses). Click anywhere on the image of Gates above to start watching.

Video from NEINetwork via YouTube. 

Comments

  1. James Birkin says:

    Great video – Gates has that extraordinary energy of mega millionaires! Pity that cant be harnessed!

  2. Ruby Carat says:

    There are little-to-no neutrons in LENR reactors.

  3. Sadhuwali says:

    Very effectively illustrated why nuclear is the way to go…

  4. Thomaspainerevisited says:

    Nuclear? Solar Crap?

    If you look at Bill Lords website, he runs a solar home (in ME and not AZ), which cost him about 50,000.
    That 50,000 breaks down to about 43 cents per day amongst a nuclear (ha!) family of 4 members
    per day during their lifetime. Since the lifetime of this technology is about 40 years it will
    cost about 100,000 per dwelling. Yet, if we mass produced this technology, I’d bet we could
    bring the price down by about half. Now, that’s still 43 cents per person. If we updated our
    electronic devices and “actually” fully insulated our homes, we’re somewhere in the neighborhood
    of 25 to 30 30 cents.
    Hell, if you look at Cramer Junction, which averages about 6 mirrors per home (placed on hot
    oil tube) that satisfies a dwellings power supply (break it down!) Listen…. The big boys want
    to keep the economics of they own and you pay. Let ‘em build with technologies that anyone
    with a junior high school math level and some common sense know are better bets and risks than
    it might work—-or it just might not kill many people—- maybe.
    Too many people listen to Gates and think in authority terms. The richest man must know.
    Fiddler on the Roof: “When your rich they think you really know.” Tevya/Topol
    Do some simple but straight thinking about recent technologies. OH… And by the way….
    Solar efficiency has markedly upgraded its efficiency. If that efficiency was matched by its
    price per usage recently, as I believe the Germans have done in the last couple of years, well,
    you can even say my estimates above “IS” unreasonable, for today’s prices (given investments)
    are probably NOW poor. The cost is now much lower than 43 cents per day.
    Calculate: INVESTMENT versus Time of Payoff.

    Thomas Paine Revisited

  5. Ray Brooks says:

    “Nuclear Power” is the perfect Energy source for ALL Humanity – As long as it is 97 million miles away…….

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