Bill Gates describes 4th generation nuclear energy to explain his investment decision

On March 23, 2012, Bill Gates was interviewed as part of the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference.

There is little doubt that he understands the technology and the opportunity. My main question is why he is not investing more in order to drive the technology even faster. After all, he is one of the world’s richest men and could write billion dollar checks if he wanted to. He also has plenty of rich friends who would join him if he provided the example.

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24 Responses to “Bill Gates describes 4th generation nuclear energy to explain his investment decision”

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  1. John Englert says:

    When Bill said if everything goes perfectly, it wasn’t accidents that came to mind, instead I thought of delays on the regulatory front. I think one reason Bill isn’t moving faster is that he wants to bring his TWR tp other countries and US export controls are probably blocking him.

  2. gallopingcamel says:

    Gates is pushing the TWR and I respect that. Of course I would respect his technical judgement even much more if he was pushing LFTRs.

    In Freeman Dyson’s “Disturbing the Universe” he stated that the fun had gone out of designing nuclear reactors. Bill Gates could restore the fun.

    Here is what I would do if I was “Himself”. I would offer to build an innovative nuclear power plant in any country that would provide a suitable site and a fair regulatory process. Most likely the USA, Germany and Japan would fail dismally to clear this hurdle.

    Then I would hold a design competition for reactors that can be factory built and delivered to site on one 40 foot truck.

    The bidders would submit proposals and time lines using their own funds. A few million dollars would be awarded to the best proposals to fund full design studies.

    At the end of the design studies one design would be chosen for construction and operation. Bill Gates is a shrewd negotiator so he could probably get the host country to match whatever he chips in. Thus a billion dollars would go a long way towards developing and building a small reactor that will probably produce <100 MWe.

  3. Why doesn’t Bill spend more?

    Bill and many of his friends have ask the government to double the funds for energy research. That would be much more than even Bill could fund. Bill has said that we need thousands of energy research projects so that a few ideas can save us from climate change.

    So when you can’t do it all your self, what should you do? His choice is to fund one project, speak for the need for nuclear electricity, and ask others to help out. If no one responds, then the public would not allow good solutions to be implemented anyway.

    You are both activists for nuclear energy. It would seen you would embrace you brother activist rather than whine about him not spending more.

    • Rod Adams says:

      Sorry Martin, but your math does not work.

      The TOTAL amount spent by the US DOE to fund nuclear energy research – the kind that actually pays off in reliable energy systems – is less than half a billion per year and most of that actually goes to supporting the DOE laboratory infrastructure and paying salaries.

      Bill could double that amount of funding for 20 years by himself and still have half of his net worth remaining even under the assumption that his wealth did not generate any revenues.

      I do not care to make my own investments in nuclear energy public, but suffice it to say that they are a far larger portion of my net worth and total income.

    • SteveK9 says:

      If you believe in something you go after (fund) THAT. You don’t say we should work on everything.

    • circusboy90210 says:

      only man made clmate change is a myth it does not exist.

  4. Curtis says:

    “It wasn’t far from here that a natural gas pipe line blew up and incinerated people”

    Bill Gates is smart man with is eyes wide open.

  5. Edward Blandford says:

    ” My main question is why he is not investing more in order to drive the technology even faster. After all, he is one of the world’s richest men and could write billion dollar checks if he wanted to.”

    If Mr. Gates felt he could get a fair shake licensing his technology in the United States, he would have absolutely no problems providing or raising the required capital to bring the project to design certification. Unfortunately the NRC is supposed to recover 90% of it’s annual budget from existing licensees per the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. These are current operators facing substantial and oftentimes unreasonable regulatory issues with the NRC due to effective intervenors and have absolutely zero interest in funding what they perceive as another “science project”. Do you think SCE or Entergy want the NRC using their regulatory fees to build up the capability to review advanced reactors with ongoing issues at VY and SONGS? And it’s not just the licensees but also NSSS vendors, Do you think W or GE want the NRC diverting resources from AP-1000/ESBWR DC reviews? Especially if these are potentially disruptive technologies that can displace their existing “new” products? While I realize these fees are directed for specific reviews, the NRC is still a large organization staffed by competent engineers with diverse capabilities. Put this another way, there are no sodium fast reactor engineers at the NRC just waiting around for a TWR application – these people would come from different existing projects, hired on with substantial risk, etc… Some of our biggest enemies are in fact ourselves.

    Until the NRC is restructured and has a significantly larger budget to do anticipatory research, don’t expect any innovative nuclear technologies that require new codes, fuels, materials etc… to get through the design certification process. While it is true PRISM went through a favorable initial pre-application review, this effort does not equate a DC and is a long ways away. This is precisely why Bill Gates and others are looking outside the US to demonstrate their technology abroad (typically in countries with centralized energy planning that are energy or nuclear export hungry – or both). It is really sad as the NRC truly is the most competent and capable nuclear regulatory body in the world – hands down.

    DC applicants should have to spend their own money to fund the NRC to do a review – this is fair. However, right now this process is fools gold unless your product is ALWR-based, even then it is debatable.

  6. James Greenidge says:

    Just one major nationwide PSA by Bill Gates stating the virtues of nuclear energy in general (omit reactor types please!) would do more to change countless layperson minds, his product detractors included, than a year’s worth of TV and YouTube debates over nuclear power. You’re talking 1800 lb gorilla in pro-nuclear imagery here. He should do it even if only to pragmatically feather his nest here for any future nuclear projects he has in mind. The non-techie majority doesn’t discriminate reactor types, so it really behooves him to do a general pro-nuke PSA to help get the public to accept nuclear energy just for his own interest.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • Daniel says:

      Bill surely has friends that are more lively than he is. The only thing Bill can cure when making presentation or public appearances is insomnia.

  7. Blubba says:

    “He also has plenty of rich friends who would join him if he provided the example.”

    Well, Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft and current molecular gastronomer, venture capitalist and fellow billionaire is also invested, among others. Not being one of the world’s most successful businessmen myself, I will have to assume Gates, Myhrvold and the other investors have an idea what they are doing and know when injecting more money makes sense. I certainly understand that getting ten women pregnant will not produced a baby in a month.

  8. DV82XL says:

    I’m sure Gates is well aware of the fact that there are several forces at work in this arena and given that some of the players can wield more money than he could imagine, he is moving slowly to avoid becoming a target. As rich as he is, he is in no position to take on fossil-fuel interests head-on.

    • Rod Adams says:

      As rich as he is, he is in no position to take on fossil-fuel interests head-on.

      That is the most reasonable excuse I have heard yet to explain why Gates and his pals – like Warren Buffet – are not more forthcoming with their own resources.

      I still maintain that a few billion spent in the right place can make a huge difference in swinging public opinion and getting the very important venture capital investment companies interested in nuclear energy again.

      There are some very well capitalized energy intensive firms who share the common interest in expansive energy supplies that drive petroleum prices down. Perhaps they could be persuaded to come on board.

      Those obstacles at the NRC are real, but unlike the physical obstacles that ensure that the wind and the sun will NEVER be reliable power sources, the obstacles at the NRC have been created by man. That means that man has the ability to destroy those obstacles even more quickly than they were built.

      • Brian Mays says:

        As long as Gates doesn’t use any Microsoft products for the I&C, I don’t have any problems with his nuclear R&D efforts.

        If he plans to build MS Nuke 2.0, however, then … well … he might be able to take the “blue screen of death” thing to a whole new level.

        I’ve always found it extremely amusing when IT folks try to break into the energy business. Witness the recent, embarrassingly failed attempt by Google.

        When it comes to Bill Gates’s efforts, the jokes just write themselves. For example, I can just imagine the operator procedures for scramming the reactor:

        Step 1: Press the “Start” button.

        ;-)

        • DV82XL says:

          …and the ‘Are you sure?’ flag that would need to be cleared before a SCRAM would actually commence.

        • Brian Mays says:

          DV82XL – Ah yes, I had forgotten that “feature.” Although you have to admit that it’s better than the older design, which would give the operator the choice: “Abort, Retry, Fail?”

          Sometimes, it would even give you the option to “Ignore.”

      • gallopingcamel says:

        People like Warren Buffett focus on making money rather than taking risks.

        What we are asking Gates and Buffett to do is invest the money they have made from therir businesses into things that we approve of, no matter how risky They may do so but in their minds it is philanthropy not investment.

        • Rod Adams says:

          I have no qualms about asking these two fine gentlemen to invest in nuclear out of their philanthropic foundations. Both gain enormous quantities of press about their generosity in fighting childhood disease, supporting education, and providing medical assistance to undeveloped lands.

          Investing in nuclear energy fits well with their published focus areas.

          One of the primary reasons that Bill became more interested in energy in general is that he listened to some of the doctors he was supporting in undeveloped countries. They told him how much more successful their clinics could be if they could plug in refrigerators, better surgical lights and make use of modern monitoring equipment. The problem, they said was that there was no reliable electrical power supply they could plug into. Solar and wind supplied useless, unpredictable power and moving fuel for generators required more fuel than could be delivered.

          Who cares if the investment does not make immediate sense or provide near term payoffs. These guys are rich philanthropists who want to make the world a better place.

          Despite the fact that I kind of like Ayn Rand, I think she was way off base by seeming to deny the fact that doing good things because they are good things carries its own “selfish” rewards.

          Why do some “capitalists” think that there is something wrong with being generous?

          • circusboy90210 says:

            only problem with bill gates is he does not really have liquid ca$h most of his wealth is bonds, stock certificates, his foundations only get given stock from his company’s not any real ca$h. bill gates is actually not that well off .

        • Jason Kobos says:

          I’d like to add. All current NPP construction projects in the U.S. carry infinite risk. The risk of never being able to start up. It doesn’t matter how philanthropic you are, if you spend $10B to build a power plant that never runs a refrigerator then you have done nothing.

          Until it is proven that these plants are allowed to start up the numbers just won’t work for many investors.

          • circusboy90210 says:

            then he should buy an island make it his own nation and not need permission from anyone to perform his experiments.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        From the Buffett angle, hasn’t MidAmerican been working on trying to get CWIP funding approved for a new plant in Iowa?

        MidAmerican is a Berkshire Hathaway company.

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