Nuclear the 'ideal way' for dealing with climate change, says Bill Gates

02 January 2019

Bill Gates has written in his year-end blog that nuclear power is "ideal for dealing with climate change". The technologist, business leader, and philanthropist wrote about nuclear power in a section about energy in his 29 December article What I learned at work this year.

Bill Gates (Image: GatesNotes)

The Microsoft Corp co-founder chairs TerraPower LLC, a nuclear energy venture, which Reuters reported yesterday is seeking a new partner for early-stage trials of its technology after new US rules forced it to abandon an agreement with China. Reuters cited comments made by company officials to the Wall Street Journal. TerraPower reached an agreement with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp in 2017 to build an experimental nuclear reactor south of Beijing.

In his blog, Gates wrote: "Global emissions of greenhouse gases went up in 2018. For me, that just reinforces the fact that the only way to prevent the worst climate change scenarios is to get some breakthroughs in clean energy. Some people think we have all the tools we need, and that driving down the cost of renewables like solar and wind solves the problem. I am glad to see solar and wind getting cheaper and we should be deploying them wherever it makes sense.

"But solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy, and we are unlikely to have super-cheap batteries anytime soon that would allow us to store sufficient energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Besides, electricity accounts for only 25% of all emissions. We need to solve the other 75% too."

Gates said he plans this year to "speak out more" about how the USA needs to regain its leading role in nuclear power research.

"Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day. The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation," he wrote, adding that the USA is "uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, and investment capital".

America is no longer the global leader on nuclear energy that it was 50 years ago, he wrote, and "to regain this position, it will need to commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious".

There are "several promising ideas" in advanced nuclear that should be explored, he noted.

"TerraPower, the company I started ten 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 US have made that unlikely," he wrote.

"The world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change. Advanced nuclear is one, and I hope to persuade US leaders to get into the game."

TerraPower signed a memorandum of understanding with CNNC to develop its traveling wave reactor in September 2015. The MoU was signed in Seattle by TerraPower CEO Lee McIntire and CNNC President Qian Zhimin. Initially developed in the 1950s, the TWR design resurfaced in the early 1990s, and was later patented by Intellectual Ventures, the company from which TerraPower was spun out of. The traveling wave reactor is a liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses depleted or natural uranium as fuel.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News