By Maurits Elen
Bill Gates enthusiastically confirmed on Wednesday that TerraPower, a company where he serves as Chairman, is cooperating with the China National Nuclear Corporation on the development of a new type of nuclear reactor. The new reactor is said to be eco-friendly, and able to endure any type of earthquake.
Though the concept for the new nuclear reactor, known as a travelling-wave reactor (TWR), has existed for several years, the project is still only in the planning phase.
Gates elaborated on the concept in a news conference with Ministry of Science and Technology officials on Wednesday:
“TerraPower is working on what we call Generation-4 nuclear energy. And the idea is to be very low-cost, very safe and generate very little waste.”
The reactor is said to be a smaller, cleaner type of nuclear reactor that has the potential to be a revolutionary zero-emission energy source, and would also reduce the need for the enrichment and processing of uranium, since the reactor reportedly turns depleted uranium into fuel.
In order to realize the project however, hundreds of millions of dollars are needed in the upcoming year for the development of the design, and billions of dollars will be required for demonstration and construction plans.
Zhang Laiwu, Vice-Minister of Science and Technology, stated in a press conference this Wednesday:
“When we cooperate with Gates, what we value so much is not Gates’ money, but his social influence, his rallying power and his innovation ability.”
According to Qian Jihui, a professor of nuclear and new energy technology at Tsinghua University, we won’t be seeing the reactors applied for commercial use any time soon, due to the fact that China still hasn’t lifted the suspension of new nuclear power projects, a ban imposed after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in March.
Gates will jointly develop the reactor with state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Xu Mi, chief expert of CNNC, stated that the reactor would be totally safe under all circumstances:
“Aware of the long-term risks of storing radioactive waste and of nuclear fuel being diverted to build weapons, scientists since the 1940s have tried to develop methods to recycle the waste by using it as fuel.TWRs are believed to be a possible solution – but only conceptually – because they have not been built or tested successfully.”
Promoting clean-energy and technology has been on Gates’ bucket list ever since retiring from Microsoft in 2008. It doesn’t make up for all those countless Blue Screens of Death we had to deal with in our Windows-using heyday in the 90’s, but it’s a start.