The optimism usually radiating from billionaire Bill Gates when it comes to climate change is starting to fade on one of his biggest technology bets: nuclear power.
Driving the news: The Microsoft co-founder has focused much of his time lately on climate and innovation. In an exclusive interview with Axios, Gates said that setbacks he is facing with TerraPower, a nuclear technology firm he co-founded in 2006, has got him questioning the future of that entire energy source.
The big picture: At 10% of global power supply, nuclear power is the second-largest electricity source (after hydropower) that emits no carbon dioxide.
It’s declining in most places around the world due to aging reactors, cheaper energy alternatives and public unease about radioactive risk — despite its climate benefits.
- The industry’s future is riding on largely unproven technologies like that of TerraPower because they’re smaller and deemed safer than today’s huge reactors.
“Without this next generation of nuclear, nuclear will go to zero,” Gates said.
Germany is shutting 22 nuclear plants, France — a leader in nuclear power — has plans to shut down some of its reactors, and a similar trend is underway in the U.S. due to economic conditions, said Gates, before adding with a sigh: “So yes, it is daunting.”
Flashback: Gates announced in December that TerraPower was scrapping plans to build a demonstration reactor in China, largely due to the Trump administration deciding that fall to crack down on technological agreements with China.
“There are times like when TerraPower gets told not to work in China, you’re thinking, ‘Boy, is this thing going to come together or not?’” Gates said in his first public comments on the matter since it happened. “That was a real blow.”
Where it stands: Gates is now trying to build TerraPower’s demonstration reactor in the U.S., calling on the Energy Department and Congress to more aggressively support advanced nuclear power through more funding and new legislation. Such a plant could cost anywhere between $3 billion–$6 billion.
“If at the end of the day we don’t find a country that wants to build an advanced nuclear power plant, then TerraPower will fail. I’m going to keep funding it for a period of years. And working with the U.S. is our strategy right now.”— Gates