Bill Gates on nuclear energy, ‘investing billions’, high project costs, associated risks & more

Bill Gates addressed concerns about nuclear power post-Fukushima and added that cleaner energy would contribute to fighting climate change. He also spoke about the safety features of TerraPower's nuclear design and the potential for cost reduction through international collaboration.

Livemint, Written By Jocelyn Fernandes
Updated17 Jun 2024, 12:12 PM IST
Bill Gates was emphatic that he would continue investing “billions more” into new-generation nuclear power and that global collaboration and scale or projects would eventually push costs down
Bill Gates was emphatic that he would continue investing “billions more” into new-generation nuclear power and that global collaboration and scale or projects would eventually push costs down(Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Speaking to CNN about his TerraPower nuclear energy plant in Wyoming, United States, the hurdles the project faces, and the future of nuclear power, billionaire and Microsoft founder Bill Gates sought to ease fears regarding the radioactive waste and the costs associated with such projects.

He was emphatic that he would continue investing “billions more” into new-generation nuclear power and that global collaboration and scale or projects would eventually push costs down.

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What Bill Gates Said...

On bringing down costs, Gates said they've "gone back to the basics", stating: "We've been willing to go back to the basics and do what people have always said should be done, which is to cool the plant with metal instead of water. And that means that this problem of high pressure and extra heat when you shut down is completely solved. And so the complexity, that's meant that nuclear has gotten more complex and more expensive. As it's gone from first to third generation, we change that utterly."

On fuel for the plant possibly coming from Russia, Gates said they delayed the plant for this reason, as the original plan changed. "We've had to change the original plan, which would have gotten done in 2028, (but) was dependent on fuel fabrication in Russia. That's, of course, unacceptable now. And so all the fuel for these plants will come either from the United States or friendly countries," he added.

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On the politics and optics of nuclear power, post-Fukushima and amid Germany decommissioning similar plants, Gates sought to reassure. "The inherent safety features in here are pretty amazing. You know, nuclear (power) actually has a pretty good track record despite the problems."

"This isn't a different regime, it doesn't require operators to do the right things. It just inherently, the heat fully gets absorbed with no release. So, you know, there are a lot of countries like France, the UK, Japan, and South Korea who are very accepting of nuclear; in fact, they know they need nuclear, but Japan's not as lucky as the US in terms of land for solar or wind. And so to go green, you know, it's got to be an even higher percentage nuclear in that case. And so working with those countries will show that we can get the costs down. And then I think even countries like Germany will look at this next generation and reconsider," he stated.

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Gates was also reminded of his wishes to find a source of energy with zero emissions and one that is cheaper than coal.

"(With) coal particularly you look at the health cost of the emissions (and) coal is being out-completed by natural gas. And so what we now have to do is compete effectively with natural gas. So once we get to our 10th unit, and we have our component cost down, we shouldn't expect people to buy electricity to pay higher prices. The risks should be these private investors and the US government. We believe we can meet that very aggressive cost target. And that's why we have the company and why we think it can not just in the US, but globally contribute to the climate challenge," Gates said.

On his investments in nuclear energy, Gates said innovation can drive profitability. "Well, amazingly, when a company succeeds in innovating, then it can be profitable. All these climate investments I've made. If we do succeed overall, that money goes to the Gates Foundation. So it allows us to do more on things like malaria and tuberculosis," he stated.

Espousing similar sentiment on CBS's Face The Nation, Gates said he would "put in billions more" into next-gen nuclear energy. “I put in over a billion, and I’ll put in billions more.

About TerraPower

A start-up founded by Gates, TerraPower LLC, broke ground last week to construct its first commercial reactor in Wyoming. This site was chosen after a coal plant was shut down.

According to a Bloomberg report, TerraPower has been researching simpler and cheaper reactors since 2008. The plant has backing from the US Department of Energy and aims to complete the new reactor by 2030, it added.

The report added that TerraPower plans to source reactor fuel from the US and its allies. The design includes using liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water and incorporating molten salt for heat storage to enhance output.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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First Published:17 Jun 2024, 12:12 PM IST
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