Bill Gates Praises New Advanced Nuclear Energy Legislation

The US Congress has authorized a new bill that supports the development of advanced nuclear power. Billionaire Bill Gates says “I cannot overstate how important this is”.

The bill includes:

  • long-term nuclear power purchase agreements
  • advanced nuclear reactor research and development goals
  • the establishment of a long-term nuclear power purchase agreement pilot
  • nuclear energy strategic plan
  • a versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source
  • advanced nuclear fuel security programmes; and
  • a university nuclear leadership programme

58 thoughts on “Bill Gates Praises New Advanced Nuclear Energy Legislation”

  1. Hey John, I just came across some very recent Moltex diagrams in a completely new cylindrical layout. Either the new hires think like me, or Moltex read my comments (the former is likely). Gone is the slide-shuffling nonsense. Hahaha. Love it.

  2. Skip to 35 years from: the first modern reactor gets approved.
    We’re sure to have totally clean energy by 2300.

  3. More like the power source for the sane and intelligent. That’s why it’s dying out. The world is full of mad morons.

  4. Maybe now that there’s some certainty for adoption he will?
    No-one wants to spend 10 billion dollars, only to not be able to build the reactor anywhere.

  5. Scary, you might well be right, and I could be a fanboy and an ignoramus, but if light water reactors are all that work, and even if they took over all electricity and all ship propulsion worldwide, there’d still be enough coal and gas burned, for everything else, to cook the climate, just a bit slower. At the moment it’s about 10% of the power and 0% of transport.
    Technology has never stuck in one place in the past ( well, not for more than a couple of thousand years ) so I’m kind of hopeful that we’ll find something else that works.

  6. ..(and cheaper to run, like 1/2 the staff per MWe) Nuscale have demonsrated that their control room can run a dozen microreactors with 6 staff, but current regs would require 48. And no other industry has to run a trained SWAT team on site.

  7. What is the $ cost and energy efficiency cost of the O2 separation required by Allam power cycle? That article cites use of air separation, but doesn’t seem to say what the overall system impact of that requirement is.

  8. ‘Not without a new capital cheap design (and cheaper to run, like 1/2 the staff per MWe).’
    That’s what some of the new designs are claiming. It shouldn’t be that hard to undercut power plants that have to pump a gas maybe a thousand miles to a city, burn it there ( to use the waste heat ) , and then build another set of pipelines to ship four times the mass back to another set of boreholes that will hopefully contain it – all policed to prevent any leakage, and taxed to get it built in the first place. The mass of solid uranium, moved one way, for the same energy would be six orders of magnitude less. ( The volume, even at 1500 psi, another three OoM less.) The countries where most new energy capacity will be built don’t have the gas pipelines yet, let alone CO2 pipelines, or the government resources to levy carbon taxes and police leakage.

  9. Mark Jacobson sounds like he’s utterly impervious to facts and has an agenda he holds more important than the truth. Honestly its the first I’ve heard of him; I’m not aware of anybody who’s actually listening to this guy.

    I’ll amend what I said then: Finland should use nuclear, that’s dead obvious.

  10. So ideally a reactor core should be spherical, but the cylinder is a compromise with practicality. In either the cylinder or Moltex’s cube the corners don’t do much for you, but I don’t see why they are really major drawbacks.

  11. Maybe not wasted, research was done, pressure is building.

    Whatever you may think of the author, good or bad, check out Dilbert for April 1st and April 2nd. It’s so topical I almost think he might be a NBF reader (or even poster).

  12. That, but also plutonium in a fast spectrum averages about 2.88 neutrons per fission, whereas uranium 235 in thermal reactors makes only 2.4. Also, the much more abundant U238 in a thermal spectrum doesn’t really fission at all, just absorbs neutrons, whereas in a fast reactor it’s much more likely to fission, average yield 2.8n. Come to think of it, Moltex say ‘ fuel shuffling takes a few hours every six months’, but if it helped, they could do it every month, and run the outside fuel elements back through the centre. If they had any operators who hate rectangles as much as Scaryjello, they could even leave the corner slots empty.
    Though they waste a lot of neutrons, they don’t really use the fuel inefficiently. Since they don’t have to worry about fuel pellets expanding and splitting the fuel tube, or fission products shutting down the chain reaction, they can leave them in for maximum burn-up. The only limit would be neutron embrittlement of the fuel tube, and they’re using steels which are relatively resistant to that.
    They also make steam about 200C hotter than a light water reactor, so thermal efficiency is about ten percent higher.

  13. John – your points are all correct on how the strong negative reactivity temperature coefficient of the fuel controls the reactor output in Moltex’s design.

    But isn’t the real reason that Moltex can be so casual about wasting neutrons is that, unlike a PWR, they have online refueling? The fuel cost in a PWR or MSR isn’t a significant addition to the final electricity cost, but the 8-10% annual downtime required to refuel a PWR is. This is why PWR designs are focused on getting as much out of the fuel as possible, but this does not apply for Moltex’s MSR as they don’t need to shut down to add and remove fuel if they use it less efficiently?

  14. ‘Nobody is saying far north countries like Finland with little hydro had another viable choice.’ Yes they are – ‘  As a backbone of our energy system Mark Jacobson and his accomplices grant Finland 29 GW capacity of onshore windpower, 27 GW offshore, and almost 50 GW of photovoltaics. For reference notice that our maximum electricity demand is around 14GW in the winter and 9 GW in the summer. Total energy consumption is somewhat less than 400 TWh. In size we are about 1% of EU which has around 90GW of photovoltaics installed. So according to Mark on a windy sunny day production could be more than 10 times our demand and around 7 times the maximum (winter) demand. Our installed PV capacity would be comparable to whole PV capacity in EU today which has, after all, spent around 10 years constructing it.’

  15. Balzac said ‘ Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.’ Maybe, but I don’t think inflicting Windows 7 on the world is all that bad. Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller left a lot more blood on the floor, before they started building libraries and universities.

  16. 1/Control rods – they don’t have any, relying completely on strong negative temperature coefficient.
    2/ Ditto
    3/ Ditto. The centre rows burn faster, but it’s limited by the temperature. The corners will fission slowly, but those rows can just slow down. The whole design seems to be optimised to waste neutrons, on the grounds that the fuel is otherwise waste, and plutonium makes shed loads of them. Plenty of ways to improve that – get rid of the hafnium, the 35Chlorine, the lanthanides in the fuel salt – but their neutronic analysis says they don’t have to. You’re trying to keep a fire burning with 5% 235U, they’ve got 20%Pu.
    ‘x,y,z coordinates’ – they do only have to worry about two dimensions, since each tube is busy shuffling itself vertically all the time.

  17. I first read about the Moltex design on the ‘Energy from Thorium’ discussion forum, where it was roundly condemned by all the resident experts for reasons including the vented tubes. Since then they’ve changed some of their design – they keep the steam generators well away from the core – and they’ve published numbers on how much fission gas will come out. Most are held up long enough to condense on the sides of the tube, up where it’s cooler, or to decay into non-volatile elements. 
    ‘Of particular note are the very low levels of caesium and iodine compounds which represent respectively 0.0006% and 0.001% of the total.’
    As Ian Scott says, the alternative at the moment is to leave the fission gases in the solid fuel, where over time they build up to the equivalent of ~30 times the volume, as a gas. That’s fine till you have an accident.

  18. That can be done more cheaply by grinding up the rock and letting it react with CO2 in the air and ocean, than taking the gas out of your industry exhaust, piping it to the right rock formation, and then shoving it down a bore.

  19. He was with TerraPower, but in his year-end letter for 2018, he stated “we had hoped to build a pilot project in China, but recent policy changes here in the U.S. have made that unlikely.”

    Obviously, since only a fool would try such a thing in the US, about 8 years of work is likely out the window.

  20. Transport (28% of USA GHG emissions) being electrified still leaves 11% for air transport (long term halved due to hybrid planes) 22% of that total is military. So we’re at 3.08% for planes. I’ll leave that alone because I’m guessing with an effective halving of fuel costs demand will simply double (Jevon’s paradox).

    Electricity :Coal is 27% by kWh and natural gas is 35%.

    In a long term scenario with heat pumps and electrical heating, along with colocated waste heat for industrial uses (25 MWe Allam cycle plants), 22% of electricity and 80% captured is only equivalent to current use of 4.4% for electricity, vs Coal 27x 1.0 and Natural Gas 35x (0.5+0.25 with leaks)= 53.25 now. 4.4 x 0.5 plus 22x 0.05 multiplier (due to reduced leaks by 90%)=2.2 plus 1.1=3.3 vs 53.5 now. a 16x difference. Source your methane from biomass? Now negative 2.2 plus 1.1 for leaks.

    Agriculture is easily remedied; that’s low hanging fruit (just add trace amounts of seaweed to cows to reduce farts by 90%, and then there’s lab meat on the way).

    So we’re at -1.1 plus 3.08 for air transport. Even if we double electricity to account for increased demand for electrical heating and transport (electrifying all light vehicles increases electrical demand by 25% alone). We’re at -2.2 plus 3.08.
    0.88 percent And I’m sure the world average can easily hit the Netherlands level of 60% of the USA per capita. 0.53 percent not 20 percent.

  21. Heads up: clean the filters (water, drying, all that) or your Dyson will simply burn out the battery trying to suck air through a clogged filter. This results in a dead battery, a call to Dyson support and much frustration.

    British engineering and all that.

  22. Bill is great but there is no reason why he couldn’t pick a nuclear startup and fund their R&D as well as a reactor. Figure the cost to be $1-$1.5 billion.

    Or I suppose he he could invest in Nuscale by funding their FOAK. I don’t like it when billionaires go cap in hand to the government and ask them to do R&D.

    Also how is TerraPower doing? They making a FOAK anytime this millennia?

  23. My ranting litany comment about how ridiculous the AGR and Magnox reactors are (complete with pictures of the core) and how this was a result of British hubris was deleted…. so you shall remain partially unchallenged here until the comment system reboots in 3 months and all the comments are wiped.

  24. Refueling reactors is like poking a campfire with a stick to rearrange the logs so that it doesn’t burn out in the middle and leave a bunch of good wood in a ring. Even if Moltex thinks their core is a square/rectangular prism, it is a cylindrical or ovoid system of three intersecting cosines in the x, y, z from the neutron’s perspective. The corners are essentially vestigial; they don’t make [much] power and shouldn’t be there; that is why reactor cores are cylindrical. The unique fuel handling/management “features” of the Moltex proposal are extraneous; they don’t solve any particular issue seen as disadvantageous in other reactors – it is like proposing “wing warping” instead of ailerons in 2019. Just because their calculations show that slide shuffling the fuel is A solution that maintains neutron multiplication, doesn’t mean Boeing should employ wing warping on the 737MAXXXIV (now with redundant AOA instruments). Normally burnup gradients are rotated such that they point to the core center in the next cycle.  So with Moltex, you have a system that is loading extra fuel because the fuel isn’t oriented properly. In other words, if I were to take all the fuel in Moltex and rotate it properly and put assemblies in their “right places” the system would: 1) need control rods to hold it down OR 2) be significantly hotter AND/OR 3) be at significantly higher power. I’ve run out of characters. Sorry I don’t have a more physically based argument why Moltex smells like fish…

  25. newton,

    I think we are talking at cross purposes. Like I said, its a siren song. You are talking about getting to 60% solar and wind, 22% gas, etc. etc. etc. but deep down I think that you know that if there was a technology like this it would dominate over wind and solar.

    The article mentioned it itself – it takes all of 1 year to go from drawing board to construction. It is always on, it is utility friendly. And it gives the *appearance* of being environmentally friendly.

    It also leads to some fairly existential risks. Methane clathrates for example are highly unstable and easily perturbed. If we start poking at them and the climate starts getting hotter, the chances are that they could rupture causing massive CH4 spills in the atmosphere.

    As for C02, again, unless you store them in deep geological storage it will seep out. You may not see it, but it will make it to the surface. So it really just makes the problem a ticking time bomb.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think that a nuclear power plant could be built – using a remarkably similar format as this gas turbine – that would *also* dominate, but nat gas technology basically has a 10 year head start on its nuclear competitors.

    That’s the true path, the true savior technology. The mass produced, standalone nuclear turbine.

    But without government regulation, we are likely to go down the seductive but dangerous path and find that we have screwed ourselves over in the process.

  26. umm… you really didn’t cover my issues at all. you act as if it is a simple thing to cut off methane emissions, and a simple thing to store CO2.

    I have sincere doubts of that – especially like you said it so cheap a problem to ignore for both producers and consumers of the stuff. It also is hard to detect – unlike radiation, there is no way to tell that pollution is occurring at the levels that are relevant here. This also would inhibit both policing and punishing offenders.

    Combine that with the fact that these would be potentially marketed worldwide as turnkey solutions in places that wouldn’t have nearly the controls as we do here, and I sincerely doubt that we’d be saving any GHG emissions at all.

    In any case, lets just say you can by this scheme drop the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of 5. I’m highly skeptical here but ok. In that case, that puts you at 100 gC02eq/kWh, which is still way too high, over 30 times the amount that you get with a nuclear power plant.

    give everybody the energy use of the average american today, and assume 10-11 billion people, and that drops our CO2 use from around 36 gigatons to about 20 gigatons. Which is an improvement but it hardly is where we need to go – and given lax regulations this picture is far too rosy.

    The great thing about nuclear power is that enforcement is built right in into the technology. You simply *can’t* leak carbon dioxide because there is no carbon dioxide to leak.

  27. He has a lot to atone for with Microsoft’s combination of monopoly abuse and terrible terrible software quality. So terrible.

    I still want to kick him in the nuts over it, but I’ll give him a pass for his awesome philanthropy.

  28. Kidding, right? As of 2017, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had given away $41.3 billion to various international and domestic causes to date

    A lot is for education and health, but he is also spending in promising areas that include grid-scale storage, liquid fuels, mini-grids, alternative building materials and geothermal power. 

    Aside from helping fund alternative energy and energy storage solution research, since 2006 he has also served as chairman of TerraPower, a company intended to help provide the world with a more affordable, secure and environmentally friendly form of nuclear energy.

    Currently, he is up to his eyebrows in getting molten salt reactors built in other countries . . . because even he can’t enough support to build them here.

  29. EDIT2: I’d like to point out that the US nuclear industry did the same “some more equally” crap. If they had gotten legislation passed to cover their own full insurance costs they could have gained a lot of regulatory breathing space but would have caused some early reactor designs sited within 50 miles of a lot of people to be shut down overnight. About a dozen by my guesstimate. So they never did it and never will /EDIT2

    That is a factor but it is mostly an excuse. The world is a bigger place than the USA. Nuclear requires subsidies even in China (they have a feed-in-tariff, the worst designed subsidy I can think of, as well as subsidized loans). You can’t make political excuses there for nuclear. Is there a political excuse with France and Finland’s new builds blowing out in cost? No, not that I can think of.

    China justifies it easily for air quality reasons, which is frankly massively more important than GHG in terms of cost/impact if you price out the cost/benefit over the next 25 years (and their massive east coast population density).

    We have relatively nice air in the USA compared to them; we can afford to do it more slowly (25+ year buildout of solar, wind, and CO2 pipelines).

    Nuclear is cost effective if you already built it; go ahead and refurbish it indefinitely with incremental tweaks. New build? No way. Not without a new capital cheap design (and cheaper to run, like 1/2 the staff per MWe).

    EDIT: To compare solar and wind; now unsubsidized in China.

  30. The white guilt just oozes out of this one.
    Support of Global Warming is his indulgence payment.
    At least it adds to the nuclear debate.

  31. A carbon capture gas plant is massively cheaper with a nominal GHG tax for baseload power if you care about GHG emissions. So what’s the benefit to new nuclear builds which costs 10x as much to remediate GHG?

  32. Re: carbon capture CO2 pipelines cost about 40% of a methane one, which deliver gas at $1.00 per mcf. So prices its about $0.40 per mcf equivalent due to higher molar density (44 vs 16) EDIT: and being able to be transported in supercritical state for some legs of the trip /EDIT. That’s like $7.5 per tonne equivalent (long term that is, if you build organically over 25 years). Old oil pipelines can be re- purposed for cheap to sequester in old oil fields.

    You can get to about 60% solar and wind, 22% gas (80% sequestered), 8% hydro, 20% nuclear, assuming you use intraday storage and pumped storage. That isn’t free, so needs about 30% of the wholesale rate (about 5 cents per kWh so 1.25 cents). 1.5 cents is about $45 GHG tax – that is your long term rate to pay for cycling batteries and pumped storage losses and capital costs.

    Eventually you can increase your total electricity usage by 25% to cover all light vehicle miles traveled. If you grow it slowly, it is basically free.

    A $45 GHG tax is 10% of the cost you would need to make building a new nuclear power plant economic.

    EDIT: CO2 pipelines can actually be massively cheaper because you can transport CO2 in a supercritical state, but its unlikely long distance you can do that. If you have a sink nearby though or want to make a connector leg between two pipleline networks…
    EDIT2: Re: #3 gas is basically infinite. Clathrates. Also you can gasify coal to methane and then sequester it. Also methane from biomass

  33. Re: methane it is a simple matter of cost and incentives. What does your gas fracking company care f they leak methane? It only costs them the wellhead rate – like $2 per mcf and remediating it would cost 5x that, so they don’t fix it. The real impact is maybe more like $30+ per mcf. Also, certain legal activities like coalbed methane leak a horrific amount (like as much as 20%). A nominal GHG tax would shut that activity right down. So $30 times 2.3 percent is $0.69 per mcf in the big picture, in the small picture at methane=22x CO2 impact then the impact is $17.60 per mcf leaked at a $15 CO2 per tonne price + $2.00. $19.60 per mcf is a heck of an incentive vs $2.00.

    A new high efficiency combined cycle or Allam cycle gas plant costs adds 0.5 cents per kWh to the cost of the fuel for a carbon tax for a $15 per tonne CO2 equivalent tax. About equivalent to adding $0.80 per mcf/mmbtu (vs. $2.71 wholesale in the USA right now).

    Capital costs run about the equivalent of 1.6 cents per kilowatt-hour per $1 per watt if run baseload.

    So a $1 per watt difference in capital price is an implied GHG tax of $45 per tonne. Nuclear costs about the same as a natural gas plant to operate (at a $15 GHG price), but $10 more per nameplate watt than a combined cycle gas plant. Equivalent to a $450 GHG price; a world price of about $20 shuts down coal for good (30%+ of all emissions) and cleans up methane leaks.

    Innumeracy. There’s more re: cost of carbon capture, but word count limits

  34. The article is about nuclear power. Why are you talking about methane and carbon dioxide, neither of which a nuclear plant emits?

  35. you know, I looked at that and I’m half of the mind that I hope this *doesn’t* work. I really think it is a siren’s song:

    1. CH4 is an extremely potent greenhouse gas in its own right. And, being a small molecule, it is very prone to leaks. If as much as 3% of it leaks, there is no benefit of a CH4 plant over a coal fired one. The current rate is estimated at 2.3%.
    2. All that C02 has to go somewhere. You think it is a tough problem to keep an inert, insoluble solid like uranium or plutonium contained for long periods? Try doing that with a compressed *gas*.
    3. there are two possibilities – either methane is basically infinite (as Thomas Gold thought) or finite. If it is infinite, we run into issues with #1 and #2. If it is *finite* we run into #1 and #2 AND we build out an infrastructure that we’ll likely have to rebuild.
    4. the CO2 emission cuts we need are *staggering*. We basically need to cut 90-95% of our emissions by end of century – and still satisfy a population of 10-11 billion. Even with leak improvements and sequestration, I find it hard-pressed to think that this cuts emissions as low as a nuke plant does.

    Hell, even with solar and/or wind I find it hard-pressed to see how we’ll get to 90-95% cuts. Solar is on average ~20 gCO2eq/kWh, whereas nuclear is ~3.6gC02eq/kWh.

    Finally, I don’t get your snide comment on innumeracy. Go ahead, *you* point out the false assumptions in the above, and if you can’t please do the world a favor and admit that you may just be mistaken.

  36. I can see that the fuel shuffling in Moltex isn’t identical to CANDU, but it looks similar enough to me that it could have similar benefits. Can you elaborate on why it wouldn’t?

  37. Good point about nuclear power and socialism, but it is actually today’s version of democracy that makes them impossible to operate economically. Every opinion treated equally and some even more equally.

  38. Rather than Bill G opening his mouth I would prefer him to open his wallet and fund a next gen reactor’s development and FOAK.

    Stop the talk-talk-talk and just change the future Musk style.

  39. I know you’re pulling for Moltex John; that is why I clipped it in the knees.

    Moltex’s proposed fuel management scheme is nothing like a Candu and I’m not sure what you are referring to as far as Bill Gates’ “candle”. The soon to be defunct TWR would have moved fuel as appropriate in a cylindrical geometry – like CANDU. Same with BN800 – some sort of cylindrical geometry shuffle with some moves inward, some outward, and many (if not all) made across the core or rotated to flip burnup gradients.

    In the land of these blind comments, my one eye, which guides my hand to mouse-click 2D representations of PWR fuel assemblies and put them in their place, is king. Those mouse clicks make real arrangements that are implemented. Moltex is goofy and seems very amateurish. Gawd, I can’t imagine the source term on a MSR with 16m (53 ft) major dimension. Guess it wasn’t working, even on paper, otherwise… Nobody is gonna let them do that. Hahaha. What? 200 tons of actinides in deliberately perforated tubes? NFW.

  40. Your AGRs and Magnox reactors never lived up to their promise in terms of temperature, output, endurance, enrichment requirements, cladding material science, cracking and therefore BASIC ECONOMICS… They are among [if not] the most expensive units to operate in the world. UK has a bad record with indigenous design of nuclear steam electric stations – it is some kind of stubborn “stiff upper lip” British gentleman’s thing – sticking to the poor decisions and making them “work” because they’re British like a cuppa. Ever see what an AGR core looks like? It’s retarded, much like the Moltex “design”. Look at the locating keys and void space; they put bundles of stainless steel clad fuel rods in those big holes. Stainless steel because they originally thought that beryllium would make decent cladding – this in their second generation gas cooled reactor. First generation Magnox had a fuel product that was similar only in the respect that it was completely unique and unlike any other normal solution.

    Youtube videos are the new pubs… what a time we live in!

  41. Nuclear – the only power source, bar fossils and hydro, that’s ever kept a country running. Over 50% in five countries, plus Ontario and four US states. Solar has reached 8% average in three countries, where it drops to 2% or less over the winter- last time I was in Athens, it was snowing. Wind in Denmark and Uruguay can reach high figures, but both export a lot of it to bigger neighbours on either side. Carbon capture isn’t even registering on the charts anywhere.

  42. The alternate row fuel movement is not too dissimilar from Candus’, and looks much better than the ‘candle’ thing Bill Gate’s crew was working on. The full power design is supposed to be up to sixteen metres long, and two across, so edge effects would really only apply to the outer extremities. The BN800 fast reactor has a two metre diameter core, so it’s like a row of those standing together for moral support. Since fuel loading is continuous, the outer few rows would just move more slowly than the rest. Convection within the rod would give even burnup top to bottom. That said, they do seem very profligate of neutrons.
    ‘Nobody in the history of core design’ has ever put a liquid fuel into tubes either – except for the molten plutonium/iron eutectic they tried in Los Alamos. The Brits tried vented fuel in the Dounreay sodium reactor, but their metal fuel ougassed too much cesium. A salt should keep it locked in.

  43. Let’s see Britain made the Jaguar and the United States made the Edsel. Therefore neither country should try to innovate anything ever again. Yep you really convinced me. Thanks for your input!

  44. I feel this article is rather misleading — the wording is very unclear. No legislation has been passed. All that has happened is that a bill that was introduce last session and not acted on before the end of the session was introduced again. Anyone here want to make a guess how likely it is that this bill will get any more attention this session than it did last session?

  45. This is unalloyed good news. The new generation of Nuclear Power reactors will solve the so called “cost” problem by simplifying the design to eliminate safety problems at the source. They will also solve the capital cost problem. The presentation by Moltex explains the prospects for improvement in design for nuclear power particularly well:

  46. This isn’t really true any more.

    ”Nuclear energy is one of these critical technologies. It’s ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.” – Bill Gates

    Allam cycle + carbon capture and it is much cheaper. Demo plant already running fine. A $15 GHG tax per CO2 equivalent ($330 per tonne of methane) gets rid of 90% of methane leakage and only adds 0.5 cents per kWh to fuel cost.

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