Could nuclear power help us reach our climate goals? Bill Gates thinks so

Gates believes his Natrium nuclear power facility will be a big win for the climate and agrees U.S. regulators are not yet prepared to tackle the effects of AI.
Sejal Sharma
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates

Wikimedia Commons 

Radioactive waste. High financial costs. Regulatory requirements. Complex safety and security features. And heavy competition with renewable energy. These are some of the challenges that plague the United States’ nuclear power energy industry. 

But Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is convinced that his Natrium nuclear power plant facility in Wyoming, which is all set to launch in 2030, will be a win for the local economy, America’s energy independence, and the fight against climate change.

The facility is being developed by TerraPower, a nuclear energy company that Gates launched in 2008. The Natrium facility is being developed in a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The project will feature a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor, instead of a traditional water-based one, with a molten salt-based energy storage system.

Nuclear energy vs. renewable energy

In an interview with ABC News, Gates said, "Nuclear energy, if we do it right, will help us solve our climate goals. That is, get rid of the greenhouse gas emissions without making the electricity system far more expensive or less reliable."

Although the debate around nuclear energy being part of a future with a low carbon footprint has been ongoing for decades, nuclear critics say that renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and hydro are our best bets for a greener, cleaner, and safer environment.

"Nuclear has some incredible pluses," Gates added. "It's not weather dependent, you can build a plant, but the amount of energy coming out of a very small plant is gigantic."

"We've solved all the areas where there have been safety challenges. And we have dramatically less waste. A great thing is that the regulator in the United States is the best in the world and they do a very good job. So part of the process between now and 2030 is an immensely detailed review with that safety commission about how this design is far safer than anything that came before."

From one powerful technology to another

In the same interview with ABC News, Gates was asked if he was concerned about the revolutionary shifts brought on by artificial intelligence (AI). He said, “We’re all scared that a bad guy could grab it.” And commenting on whether the U.S. regulators are prepared to tackle the effects of AI, Gates said ‘Not yet.’

Microsoft has heavily invested in OpenAI, the company that launched ChatGPT. Gates also said how impressed he was with the leaps made by the ChatGPT software within the last year. "I was surprised last year that going from GPT-3 to GPT-4; it improved so much."

But there have been concerns raised by the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who recently cautioned against the fast-developing technology, saying that it’s important to be “thoughtful in how you approach these things,” and Geoffrey Hinton, dubbed as the ‘godfather of AI,’ recently quit Google so he could alert people about the dangers posed by AI.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board