Jan 7, 2019 - Technology

U.S. to Bill Gates: Build your scrapped China nuclear reactor in America

Bill Gates talking

Photo: Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A top Trump administration official called on Bill Gates to work with the Energy Department on building an advanced nuclear reactor in America after the billionaire shelved plans to do so in China.

Driving the news: Gates said late last year that his nuclear-energy company, TerraPower, won’t be building a pilot project in China due to restrictions the Energy Department recently placed on technology deals with China. In comments to reporters Monday on another initiative, Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said of Gates: “We hope we can work with them and bring them back.”

The details: The new Energy Department restrictions are aimed at preventing other nations from using nuclear technologies for military purposes. Brouillette said the department has had “several conversations” with Gates on the matter and said he was hopeful the U.S. government could streamline the permitting process to make it more likely Gates would pursue building the reactor in America.

  • “That was a concern of theirs and a reason they went to a different country,” Brouillette said.
  • TerraPower had pursued plans to build a pilot reactor in China because that country has two things America doesn’t — growing electricity demand and a long-term strategic energy plan — a top TerraPower executive told me in late 2017.

For the record: A request for comment to Gates’ office wasn’t immediately returned.

The big picture: Advanced nuclear technologies, which are smaller and deemed safer than existing kinds, are still in the very early stages. Current American nuclear plants, which are far larger, are shutting down early due to economic reasons.

In other news: The Energy Department announced today it was pursuing a $115 million project at a nuclear facility in Ohio to develop a type of nuclear fuel (uranium) that can be used in certain advanced reactor designs.

  • Brouillette said it’s important the U.S. develop the capability to produce this fuel so American nuclear technologies aren’t dependent upon sources from other nations, adding that Russia has the ability to produce this type of uranium.
  • America currently imports most of its uranium used in today’s nuclear-plant technologies, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department.

Go deeper: Bill Gates shelves nuclear reactor in China, citing U.S. policy

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Gates has had conversations with Energy Department officials, not Brouillette specifically.

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