Innovative Manufacturing Can Grow US Economy
But he contended that “compared to coal (operations) or natural gas (plants), nuclear plants have killed way, way less people. But they’re big events, so they’re more visible.”
TerraPower, he said, has designed a reactor that, in case of an emergency, shuts itself down in such a way that it can never operate again. As a result, it is “intrinsically safe,” Gates said.
But there isn’t much political will to build such a reactor in the United States or, indeed, most Western countries. Historically, the United States has been the leader in nuclear energy. Of the 400 plants in the world today, 100 of them are in the United States, and 70 are in France. But now, China has 20 plants, with 28 under construction. India and Russia are also aggressively building new plants.
Gates’ hope is that an even newer generation of nuclear reactors, including designs created by TerraPower, will be built soon—though probably in Asia.
He said solar energy is at this point merely a “cute” diversion because it isn’t economical on a large scale. Rich people can put solar panels on their houses—Gates does—but that isn’t a solution. Nor is ethanol, because growing ethanol-bound corn diverts land away from food production. That’s fine for rich countries like ours, but not poor ones. “It’s a form of farm subsidy,” he said.
Still, even if we’re “sloppy” with resources because we have that luxury, the United States has one critical advantage that will “blow everyone away.”
“This is the place where the ideas are,” he said. “The people get what (Terrapower) is doing—that expertise is overwhelmingly in the United States.”