Why Bill Gates’ China Nuclear Project Failed

September 17, 2019

Above per NBC news.

Popular Mechanics:

At least for now, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates is pulling back on nuclear power. He hasn’t changed his mind on the science—he puts his blame on the Trump Administration’s bitter relationship with China.
Gates invested in TerraPower in 2011 with the hope of helping to prove the company’s core concept: a so-called traveling-wave reactor (TWR) which would run on depleted uranium, as opposed to the enriched uranium commonly used in nuclear plants. The concept is appealing on several levels—not only would its small design lower the currently rising price of nuclear energy, it would actually consume the trash pumped out by today’s modern reactors.

In 2015, the company signed a deal with the Chinese government to be a small demonstration plant to be constructed by 2022. Since then, it has remained relatively low-profile. In 2017, Gates gave a speech at Peking University saying he was developing nuclear energy that was “dramatically safer and substantially cheaper” than what the world has previously known.
From trade to security to environmentalism, the Trump administration has taken an aggressive stance toward the Chinese government. In October 2018, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said that the United States “cannot ignore the national security implications of China’s efforts to obtain nuclear technology outside of established processes of U.S.–China civil nuclear cooperation.”

The Department of Energy then announced it would deny any new licenses from U.S. companies wishing to work with the Chinese government, and current licenses would not be given extensions. The department cited the indictment of the Chinese state-owned nuclear corporation in 2017 alongside Taiwanese-American Allen Ho, who was eventually jailed for assisting the Chinese state on nuclear issues.

In his year-end letter for 2018, Gates notes that “we had hoped to build a pilot project in China, but recent policy changes here in the U.S. have made that unlikely.”

Pulling out of the project leaves TerraPower’s future uncertain. According to company CEO Chris Levesque, speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the price of a demonstration reactor is around $1 billion. Having to cancel a project worth such an extraordinary amount would likely be the death knell for most new players in any field. Most new players, however, aren’t funded by Bill Gates—still valued by Forbes to have a fortune north of $93 billion.
In his letter, Gates notes that the company “may be able to build … in the United States” under certain funding and regulatory conditions. He also announced that he would be taking up the mantle of nuclear energy in a more public way this year in actions unaffiliated with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 
“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change,” Gates says in his letter, “because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.” He adds that “problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation.”
For now, though, TerraPower’s technology looks like it may have to start from scratch.

14 Responses to “Why Bill Gates’ China Nuclear Project Failed”

  1. grindupbaker Says:

    It’s because the Chinese operators were perturbed at seeing “Fatal arithmetic underflow error 0xF75E0A92” every time they checked just to see the core isn’t too hot. Did you know that the IBM Execs went to see Intergalactic Digital Research (CP/M Control Program / Management O/S) but Intergalactic’s wife said he played golf on Sunday so they returned to Bill Gates to see whether he had an O/S to go with his BASIC language and he knew somebody in a basement who had QDOS (Quick Dirty Operating System) so Bill bought that for a few dollars, changed that to DOS for Disk Operating System, used lease to IBM not sale and a star is born. Wiki says that it’s just IDR didn’t like IBM’s terms so that Sunday golf I heard 40 years ago is a classic urban legend. My best friend visited China a few times for our Canada CANDU reactor (he was a physicist).

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Buggar Poop! Another step back in the war against catastrophe.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    “We know that the paper-moderated, ink-cooled reactor is the safest of all. All kinds of unexpected problems may occur after a project has been launched.”

    => The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector is fuelling climate change, and WMDs

  4. Kaj Luukko Says:

    I never understood why Bill Gates invested in the traveling-wave reactor which is the only fission reactor type newer built before. There is no proof, as far as I know, that it could ever be built either.

    We have no time to wait for a totally new type of reactors to enter the market. Fortunately, we don’t have to, because there is nothing wrong with the light water reactor. There is no need to make it safer than it is because it is already one of the safest forms of energy. So far it has been the fastest way to add low emission power production.

    We will not solve the climate problem without nuclear. Believing Mark Jacobson in energy issues is like believing Fred Singer about climate.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      ” Believing Mark Jacobson in energy issues is like believing Fred Singer about climate.:”

      Exaggerate much?!?

      Mark Jacobson publishes in the peer-reviewed literature. Fred Singer is a washed-up Sophist liar.

      You know what that makes you? A bullshit artist.

      • Kaj Luukko Says:

        Peer review is not always a guarantee of quality and it’s sad. After your ad-hominem attack, you may now be prepared to read this blog and the other parts of it. It’s not mine, it’s from my friend. I highly recommend not to blindly believe in what Mark Jacobson publish.


        • dumboldguy Says:

          Good link—-well-written.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          Complete nonsense. Snark and crap–and cherry picked snark and crap at that. That’s what you have have to oppose not just Jacobson’s but the dozens of other peer-reviewed studies showing that 100% of the world’s energy needs can be supplied with clean safe renewable energy quickly at low cost?

          Including of course, a set of respected studies from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology.

          LUT has been sporadically releasing the results of a long-running research program which evaluates the potential of a country or region’s ability to transition to a 100% renewable electricity system. (And of course a crucial strategy of avoiding climate catastrophe is to electrify everything.) So far LUT has presented a case for a 100% Russia & Central Asia by 2030; Iran & Middle East by 2030; India by 2050; and its biggest accomplishment, a successful model of a 100% renewable energy planetary system.

          “A global transition to 100% renewable electricity is feasible at every hour throughout the year and more cost effective than the existing system, which [used to be] largely based on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will.

          Those of us opposing lies and delusions don’t blindly accept anything; that’s your side’s MO.

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