Bill Gates has dedicated his post-Microsoft life to humanitarian work—the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has directed billions of dollars toward health and development programs around the world. But Gates sees energy reform as the quickest path toward reducing poverty, saying in a 2010 TED speech that “if you could pick just one thing to lower the price of—to reduce poverty—by far you would pick energy.” To that end, he chairs TerraPower, a company looking to bring nuclear power into the 21st century. We profiled his efforts back in July, and now the NYT is taking notice:
TerraPower, led by Mr. Gates and a fellow Microsoft billionaire, Nathan Myhrvold…has raised tens of millions of dollars for the project, but building a prototype reactor could cost $5 billion — a reason Mr. Gates is looking for a home for the demonstration plant in rich and energy-hungry China….
“The hope is that we’ll find a country, with China being the most likely, that would be able to build the demo plant,” Mr. Gates said last year in a conversation with the energy expert Daniel Yergin. “If that happens, then the economics of this are quite a bit better than the plants we have today.”
Gates isn’t the only one looking to develop the next generation of nuclear power technology. China is already working to develop thorium nuclear reactors, and technologies like molten salt and fast reactors are edging closer to reality. The potential here is huge. Nuclear energy, as greens often need to be reminded, is effectively zero-emissions. Some of these next generation reactors can use former nuclear waste as fuel. The reactor TerraPower is working on doesn’t require the kinds of enriched uranium that can double as a nuclear weapons component, which would prevent countries like Iran from potentially hiding weapons programs behind power programs.
In the aftermath of Fukushima, Germany rashly decided to get rid of nuclear energy entirely, and it’s now paying for its mistake in higher electricity prices. If we site nuclear plants in smart places (far away from fault lines) and these potential technologies become realities, nuclear could play a much bigger role in the global energy mix than it currently does. We’ll be watching.