Nuclear Power is Ripe for Innovation



Bill Gates believes that Nuclear Energy is ripe for innovation

I would tend to agree with Mr. Gates:

“In a conversation with Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson today at the magazine’s third annual Business Conference, Gates said that one of the best aspects of nuclear power at the moment is its lack of innovation thus far, which leaves it ripe for disruption in the coming years.”

Full article at VentureBeat.

LFTR can be that disruptive technology that he seeks, and it will be much simpler to engineer and operate than the travelling wave reactor, because its thermal-neutron spectrum requires 10-15 times less fissile fuel per unit of electrical output than the fast-neutron spectrum of the travelling-wave reactor or the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR).



10 Replies to "Nuclear Power is Ripe for Innovation"

  • Anon
    May 3, 2011 (11:09 am)

    The big problem though is the over-regulation of the nuclear industry, non-Microsoft software (the only kind that actually is innovative) tended to be pretty innovative largely because there wasn't any red tape to get in the way.

    At some point sensible regulations need to replace the current ones.

  • Brent
    May 3, 2011 (8:11 pm)

    Bill gates likes to own the technology. Can LFTR concept be owned?

  • Rob Morse
    May 5, 2011 (10:54 am)

    I find "Ripe for Innovation" a mixed message. Said another way, nuclear power is so politicized and regulated, that it is stagnant. Our plants are not built to best availiable technology, but to lowest regulatory and legal delay.

    I don't think nuclear power has a technical problem, but a regulatory and legal one.

  • zeonglow
    May 6, 2011 (1:28 pm)

    If you want to kill LFTH for good. Sell it to Gates or perhaps Shell (please, please don't do that)

  • gallopingcamel
    May 14, 2011 (10:53 pm)

    Gates is pushing the TWR and I respect that. Of course I would respect his technical judgement even much more if he was pushing LFTRs.

    Somewhere else on this blog there was a quote from Freeman Dyson's "Disturbing the Universe" where he stated that the fun had gone out of designing nuclear reactors. Bill Gates could restore the fun.

    Here is what I would do if I was "Himself". I would offer to build an innovative nuclear power plant in any country that would provide a suitable site and a fair regulatory process. Most likely the USA, Germany and Japan would fail dismally to clear this hurdle.

    Then I would hold a design competition for reactors that can be factory built and delivered to site on one 40 foot truck.

    The bidders would submit proposals and time lines using their own funds. A few million dollars would be awarded to the best proposals to fund full design studies.

    At the end of the design studies one design would be chosen for construction and operation. Bill Gates is a shrewd negotiator so he could probably get the host country to match whatever he chips in. Thus a billion dollars would go a long way towards developing and building a small reactor that will probably produce <100 MWe.

  • Tas
    May 17, 2011 (4:45 am)

    @gallopingcamel, if I could rate comments, yours would be 5/5! Spot on.

  • HornSpiel
    May 17, 2011 (4:21 pm)

    If thorium energy is as revolutionary as its proponents believe it to be, then the issue of who owns it and who gets the profits is huge. What might be the unintended consequences of cheep abundant energy? If it so cheep, energy usage could rise exponentially depleting thorium reserves far faster than envisaged. Mankind has a way of turning blessings into curses, and of wasting with abandon.

    I love the idea of thorium energy. I pray we are wise enough to use it well.A certain risk of abundant resources is overpopulation.

    It seems to me that one approach would be to democratise energy production, making sure thorium power plants are public utilities. Profits could be used to subsidise a basic energy allowance for all citizens as well as public transportation and wise land use policies, education and health services.

    One would hope that raising the standard of living of all people would reduce population growth and diminish conflicts between peoples.

  • ibogaert
    May 19, 2011 (4:51 am)

    Indeed, humanity will most likely use (much) more energy when it becomes much cheaper and abundant.

    However this increase in consumption, even if it is a wasteful increase, does not need to be dramatic. For example, only a minute fraction of the sun's radiation is captured by the earth. All the rest is wasted, as is the radiation of most of the billions of stars in our universe. Waste of energy is all around us, and on a much larger scale than we usually think. On the other hand, the environment and its biodiversity is a resource that should not be wasted. Once a species is extinct, it is gone forever. An energy source that is so cheap that it can be wasted can significantly aid in saving the environment.

    For example, cheap and abundant energy might make the recycling of many things currently regarded as waste economical. In theory, this recycling only requires (vast amounts of) energy. Hence, when energy becomes cheap, a total recycling strategy can more easily be adopted, which helps the environment. Also, in a more direct manner, it reduces the need to go and look for oil in new places (e.g. tar sands), thereby again saving the environment.

    Basically: energy is wasted on such a massive scale in the universe, that it is a bit strange why we shouldn't add just a little bit to this waste to save our only really limited resource, which is the environment and its biodiversity ? Therefore I think the cheap energy that thorium provides is a purely positive thing.

  • Jagdish
    May 19, 2011 (10:02 am)

    Indian nuclear establishment also feels the same way about fissile feed for thorium but has gone about it in a different way. They are sticking to stage II of the plan, namely fast uranium fueled reactors to collect a stock of fissile material including U233.

  • caffiend
    June 30, 2011 (7:41 am)

    "requires 10-15 times less fissile fuel per unit of electrical output" is presumably a statement about inventory, but people are likely to read it as a statement about consumption. It would be better to clarify this.

    There is a huge inventory of reactor-grade plutonium in spent nuclear fuel, so providing startup inventory for plutonium-cycle fast reactors would be no problem.

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