Bill Gates – the Nuclear Future

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    …with his jar of fireflies on stage.

    Bill Gates: "If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years, it'd be to invent the thing that halves the cost energy with no CO2. This is the one with the greatest impact."

    Pretty sweeping statement for someone involved with many public health and welfare projects… (around minute 17:00)

    Gates: “We need an energy miracle. Usually we don’t have a deadline. This is a case where we have to drive at full sped and get a miracle on a tight timeline.”

    “All the batteries on Earth can store less than 10 minutes of the world’s energy needs.”

    The video of his talk just went online.

    My favorite parts are near the end, especially the Q&A on new nukes (fast breeder reactors that burn a U238 duraflame log for 60 years, with 99% efficiency vs 1% for today’s U235 reactors. No fuel to reload or waste to ship around. Existing nuclear waste could be used as fuel. He is funding Nathan Myhrvold’s Terrapower, which be testing this new reactor… in Russia (update: now China)). Around minute 19:00

    By a show of hands, 75% of the TED audience was already pro-nuke as the solution.

    Angelia 2041, LesMeister, ahurx, and 4 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. Jonathan Ruff 51 months ago | reply

      We clearly need a manhattan project / big bang in energy. Maybe Gates directing some of his $120 billion (personal + charity) in total access funds at this problem will finally move the dial. Plus he's not just any billionaire, he has an extreme scientific orientation; ideal for finding and organizing the best minds - hopefully.

      Shame NIMBY rules the day and we're testing it in Russia. With better transmission we could always build in the middle of the desert. Utah, Nevada and Texas would probably allow large nuclear construction.

      Blows my mind they earmarked $800 billion in stimulus, and no mega energy projects, equivalent in scale to the interstate highway system etc. Could have built 80 to 100 new nuke plants for that and provided for all the energy growth over the next six to ten decades.

    2. scandar 51 months ago | reply

      Nuclear will be the next wind in that they'll realize in 2011 that the economics aren't there now (for full-scale use) and projects will stall. Maybe not as bad as wind, but we'll see similar results.

    3. jurvetson 51 months ago | reply

      Why? Do you mean the new nukes with 60 year operation.

      Seems very different from wind - base load vs intermittent

    4. scandar 51 months ago | reply

      You're correct. It's not entirely fair to compare wind and nuclear.

      From what I've read, the newer nuclear plants sound less economically attractive with longer development costs and lead-time for approvals and maybe stimulus money - coming from public or private organizations - could make these projects more attractive to investors.

      My apprehension with nuclear in this country is that I don't think the demand drivers are there yet to not focus on other fuel/energy options with less developmental costs.

    5. Apollo 11 51 months ago | reply

      It is amazing how many of the world's problems are easily solved by the availability of cheap energy. How many of the world's poor would benefit from access to desalinization plants that can produce cheap fresh water from the oceans?

      The real problem with nuclear is that the plants are designed too big, with the intent of matching some very large peak power requirement of a major urban area. It is dfficult to manage the output of a nuclear core, so a lot of engineering goes into how to store excess power generated overnight when demand is low. Much smaller plants are safe, off the shelf technology -- look at the mini nukes being used in the Alberta oil sands.

      The key, as Gates alluded to, is battery power. We need a (mechanical) battery next to every house that could store power efficiently during low demand periods and feed the powr back to the grid at high demand periods. You could then design plants with uniform load requirements, make them smaller and safer, and still satisfy peak demand.

      This technology is already available, and it is easy to come up with a business model that makes the investment attractive to home owners, if they get paid for the service. However, this is a policy level decision that most power producers seem reluctant to consider. It took years before Ontario Hydro agreed to put smart meters in homes, and that's a government entity. There is too much invested in old technology to expect power producers to easily gve up their current business model.

    6. benjiman 51 months ago | reply

      I have to echo J.Ruff's point that US NIMBY mentality is largely to blame for the current stall in nuke power dev in the US.

      I keep thinking how we've lost the gumption to make big, bold moves, which in the past were enabled by private enterprise on a grand scale (NYC subway system) or government will on a grand scale (interstates, which have been a double edge sword; should have put that $$$ into mass transit)....

      So we're left testing these ideas in countries where it's still legal to piss off a few people without getting your ass legally reamed out...

    7. tonyjurvetson 51 months ago | reply

      Maybe we are finally starting to move in the right direction, away from the ten billion dollar monster plants to the safer, modular, small " nuclear batteries". This trend will also address our inadequate power grid. Huge coal fired power plants should be decommissioned and replaced by non polluting nuclear energy closer to the point of use.

      The village of Galena, Alaska, is considering switching from its 28 cents/kWh diesel generator electricity to a Toshiba 4S micronuclear power plant. On paper, the Toshiba proposal to build a prototype plant could lower the cost of energy by more than 75 percent with little capital cost to the city. Galena currently uses over 2 million gallons of diesel fuel per year, to generate electricity.

      Toshiba representatives say the system is nothing like the infamous sodium-cooled nuclear power plants of the past. Rather, they characterize it as a "nuclear battery" -- self-contained and automated without any moving parts. At the heart of the 4S system is a log-sized uranium core, which would generate power for 30 years before needing to be disposed of and replaced. The company hopes to have a 4S system operational by the end of the decade.

      Wind, solar and hydro-power were taken off the list as primary power sources when it was determined that site conditions in Galena did not make those options practical,

      The analysis showed that, presuming the nuclear battery went into operation in 2010, by 2020 it could supply electricity to Galena for 5 to 14 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh), assuming the reactor is a gift from Toshiba and the community pays only operating costs.

      In comparison, improved diesel generation could provide Galena power for 25 cents to 35 cents per kWh. Coal-fired power comes in as a serious alternative in the study, at 21 cents to 26 cents per kWh, A small coal-powered plant could use coal extracted from a thick coal seam about 12 miles from the community.

      The nuclear option looks good even if Galena were to pay for the reactor. In that case the power costs were estimated at 15 cents to 25 cents per kWh in the study. Toshiba has estimated the cost of the 4S reactor at $25 million. Galena's power is now 28 cents per kWh.

      Another somewhat larger approach would be the Hyperion power Module. At the recent Annual Winter Conference of the American Nuclear Society in Washington, and simultaneously at the “Powering Toward 2020” conference in London, England, Hyperion Power Generation Inc. revealed the design for the first version of its Hyperion Power Module (HPM), a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) that it intends to have licensed and manufactured at facilities in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

      The HPM is a compact (approx. 1.5m wide x 2.5m tall), sealed and self-contained, simple-to-operate nuclear power reactor, euphemistically referred to by the company as a “fission battery”. Over its 7-10 year operational life, the HPM will deliver 70 MW of thermal energy, or approximately 25 MWe. Each module will cost $50 million; initial deliveries, slated to begin in the second half of 2013, are being scheduled, the company says.

      The reason for the low electrical efficiency (36% of 70 MWt) is that the steam loop does not run through the inside of the reactor, for simplicity and safety, the company says.

      The HPM is small enough to be manufactured en masse and transported in its entirety via ship, truck, or rail, and is intended to be buried underground for its operational life, after which it will be dug up and refueled at Hyperion.

      Hyperion Power’s market goals include the distribution of at least 4,000 of its transportable, sealed, self-contained, simple-to-operate fission-generated power units.

      The advantage of much smaller nuclear reactors is that they can be mass produced at a much lower cost and installed very close to where the power is required, limiting loss and the use of very expensive long power lines.

      Aluminium and steel (and similar) plants could have their own on-site small nuclear power plants and not even be connected to the national grid.

      A few well located underground N-plants could supply all the power a small/medium city need without overhead cables. ( PG&E estimates $100 million to eliminate power poles and bury the existing overhead wires in Los Altos Hills, CA.) The face of America would change without all those power lines, poles and towers. Let's also slow down erecting visually polluting. ugly wind generators to minimize their future removal expense to our children.

      However, the not in my backyard fight will last a few centuries in the land of the 10 million lawyers and lobbies. It's time to stop listening to the fossil fuel lobby!

      Our Navy has trained over 100,000 sailors since the early fifties to operate and maintain the hundreds of on board small safe nuclear reactors that power our aircraft carriers and submarines, with excellent reliability, located very close to thousands of on board sailors. These highly trained technicians could find great jobs operating the commercial plants after service discharge.

      We have the opportunity to become energy self sufficient and the major reducer of planetary pollution. Electricity could also become our major export to the Americas. We can give Bill his energy miracle.

    8. Leino88 51 months ago | reply

      thanks tony, that was quite informative as i sipped my morning coffee.
      ... made with quebec's hydro electricity ...
      I am dumbfounded by people who are so closed minded that they are not even willing to learn about the advances made in nuclear energy, and in turn hamper progress in an all too important area.

    9. Jay Dugger 51 months ago | reply

      I find a pro-atomic power crowd at TED very encouraging. The question of best-fit scale stays open, and somewhere there's a stack of (unwritten?) papers on the effects of scale on technological development and adoption.

      Wind power works well some places, but towers affect the scenery. This helps in Kansas, but harms it in Maui. Widely distributed underground atomic power plants seem ideal.

      Did Stewart Brand discuss atomic power at TED? Did anyone repeat Kurzweil's claim of accelerating returns for solar power? Did anyone mention Keith Lofstrom's variation of solar power satellites, ServerSky?

    10. jurvetson 51 months ago | reply

      No solar silliness, but Stewart did a debate on nuclear futures with a Stanford Prof.

      Here are some quotes from his new book, which I highly recommend:

      Chernobyl: "The real damage to people in the region is from poverty and mental stress. Fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself. The zone’s evacuation put an end to industrialization, deforestation, cultivation and other human intrusions, making it one of Ukraine’s environmentally cleanest regions… The world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities. Even where the levels of radiation are highest, wildlife abounds. I predict there will be a Chernobyl National Park.

      Nuclear energy has done more to eliminate existing nuclear weapons from the world than any other activity. …currently 10% of the electricity Americans use comes from Russian missiles and bombs.

      Coal is now understood to be the long-term systemic horror we once thought nuclear was.

      The environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we have been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool. We make ourselves look a conspicuously irrational as those who espouse ‘intelligent design’ or ban stem-cell research, and we teach that irrationality to the public and to decision makers.

      As with nuclear, those who know the most are the least frightened."

    11. LesMeister 51 months ago | reply

      I'm busy reading a really interesting book by Christopker Booker : The Real Global Warming Disaster....
      Which I highly recommend... shows how the data has been manipulated to support the "consensus view" on global warming... well written....also explains how inefficient wind power is... because of its unpredictability... you have to have backup systems running anyway..!! Carbon trading just seems like another new form of tax..!! small nuclear units seem like the answer..
      Thank you for an interesting post..:):)

    12. ComputerHotline 50 months ago | reply

      Thanks for licensing this image as CC "by" !
      Your photo is uploaded here :
      under the terms of the Creative Commons "by" license.

    13. Tomi Tapio 50 months ago | reply

      What about cheap solar panels?

    14. jurvetson 50 months ago | reply

      Oh we like!

      But in the context of Gates' talk, they are not a baseload supply to replace coal.

    15. pelastration 48 months ago | reply

      Bill Gates: "If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years, it'd be to invent the thing that halves the cost energy with no CO2. This is the one with the greatest impact."

      In that case Bill Gates should look to

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