Ray Rothrock

Bill Gates: Front and Center on Nuclear Power

In Energy on May 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm

There is a lot written these days about nuclear power. Whether it is comments about the post Fukushima impact on the world’s view of nuclear energy, or the nuclear renaissance in the United States, or just the simple fact that energy demands in the world will be hard to fill without nuclear energy. All those articles and comments are interesting at some level, but Bill Gates is different. Here is a man who is putting his money and reputation to work to solve the world’s energy problems – not just talk about it.

Thank you, Mr. Gates. I applaud your enthusiasm, your understanding of the issues, and your willingness to make a public case that needs to be made. VentureBeat reports an interview with Bill Gates where he points out the obvious (again) that lack of innovation in nuclear energy is an opportunity ripe for transformation by entrepreneurs. I love entrepreneurs. Maybe Mr. Gates is ready to make his mark in energy too.  He’s backing TerraPower.

Gates is an evidence driven guy. He completely understands the “million multiplier” that uranium has to coal in terms of energy density and ability to bring energy to the market. And he understands when economies are growing at 10% (China) or 3% (US) or India (8%) that these economies need energy to keep growing. Further, he understands the energy density issue around industrial economies. This is not trivial and is essential. Dispersed energy production is a good, big deal, but it will not power a car factory, or a battery factory, or an agricultural enterprise. He understands that while nuclear energy in the past was not perfect, he is investing to make it better – a lot better than where it is today. The U.S. has already done a lot to make it better.

Believe me, I’m not anti-wind or solar. I’m a huge green fan. I’ve got 13 KW of solar PV on my roof generating more power than I personally consume at my home during afternoon hours and most of the day. But, the density of wind and solar energy sources and the requirement for storage is such that they are unusable when the fundamental source of wind or sun is not available are obstacles to deployment for growing and developing economies. Just building the grid to connect the sources of wind and solar to the where the people live is a daunting figure and task.

Gates understands the fundamental economics and doesn’t quibble with the need for an improvement in the quality of life. His foundation is all about improving people’s lives so it is not surprising he is personally also on the energy case, and in particular the nuclear energy bandwagon. His personal investment in TerraPower is not only massively important, but massive symbolic. Why can’t the United States make these investments? Why aren’t other billionaires doing this? (turns out they are!)

So, thank you Mr. Gates for taking the podium and pounding home the reality of the need for energy and in particular, the role that nuclear plays on the world stage in improving our lives, and supplying our economies with energy that is green, safe, and economical.  If you need a partner to carry the message, please call.

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