Microsoft co-founder and multi-billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, like many celebrities, is all about cleaning up the power generation sector to reduce carbon emissions. However, he doesn’t believe that renewables alone are the best or only way to get there.
In his annual year-end blog, Gates promised to spend more time in 2019 speaking out on the virtues of nuclear energy. He is chair of TerraPower LLC, a 10-year-old venture focused on developing new technologies to make carbon-free nuclear more economical and viable in the marketplace.
“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change,” Gates wrote. The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation. The United States is uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs and investment capital.”
Yet he acknowledged that the U.S. is no longer a global leader in nuclear energy. Only one reactor project has been completed in the past three decades, while other plans have been abandoned.
Georgia Power and its partners are soldiering on with the Vogtle reactor units 3 and 4 expansion, but that was almost killed amidst various delays, opposition and a price tag hitting $25 billion and beyond. SCANA and Santee Cooper abandoned construction at the V.C. Summer station expansion in 2017 after a decade of work and more than $9 billion invested.
Even Gates’ own TerraPower venture is hobbled. It has to seek a new partner because new U.S. trade rules forced it to disconnect an agreement with China. Nonetheless, Gates is unbowed in his belief that nuclear is ideal to lead the transition to a carbon-free energy sector.
And America must move to take the leadership role it once held on the nuclear energy stage.
“To regain this position, it will need to commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious,” Gates wrote. “TerraPower, the company I started 10 years ago, uses an approach called a traveling wave reactor that is safe, prevents proliferation, and produces very little waste. We had hoped to build a pilot project in China, but recent policy changes here in the U.S. have made that unlikely. We may be able to build it in the United States if the funding and regulatory changes that I mentioned earlier happen.”
(Rod Walton is content manager for Power Engineering and the PowerGen International conference which will be Nov. 19-21 in New Orleans. Nuclear energy will be a part of the content at PowerGen. Walton can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).