Bill Gates: to Save Earth, We Will Need More Nuclear Power

If industrialized nations want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions significantly, they will need to embrace advanced nuclear energy.

This is according to Bill Gates, the famed billionaire investor and humanitarian who has published an open letter, his New Year’s Resolution of sorts, on what projects he thinks will need his urgent attention in 2019. These include rolling back resurgent polio through vaccination projects and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The global clean energy landscape, too, will need to make realigned through factoring nuclear power more prominently into future energy plans, Gates says, adding that he is seeking to play a part in that. “Global emissions of greenhouse gases went up in 2018. For me, that just reinforces the fact that the only way to prevent the worst climate-change scenarios is to get some breakthroughs in clean energy,” the Microsoft cofounder writes.

“Some people think we have all the tools we need, and that driving down the cost of renewables like solar and wind solves the problem. I am glad to see solar and wind getting cheaper and we should be deploying them wherever it makes sense,” he elucidates. “But solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy, and we are unlikely to have super-cheap batteries anytime soon that would allow us to store sufficient energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing,” Gates points out.

Gates is involved in Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investment fund specializing in clean energy sources with the aim of ensuring that low-carbon energy will become an ever more dominant part of power generation across the world in an effort to mitigate climate change.

In his letter Gates wants to allay lingering fears about nuclear energy.

“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day,” Gates stresses. “The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation. The United States is uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, and investment capital.”

Yet for all that, the US has relinquished its position as a leader in nuclear energy, the investor laments. “Unfortunately, America is no longer the global leader on nuclear energy that it was 50 years ago,” he writes. “To regain this position, it will need to commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious.”

Homegrown innovations and smart investment choices can overcome obstacles in the way of nuclear power, however. “There are several promising ideas in advanced nuclear that should be explored if we get over these obstacles TerraPower, the company I started 10 years ago, uses an approach called a traveling wave reactor that is safe, prevents proliferation, and produces very little waste,” the billionaire writes.

“We may be able to build it in the United States if the funding and regulatory changes that I mentioned earlier happen,” Gates adds. “The world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change. Advanced nuclear is one, and I hope to persuade U.S. leaders to get into the game.”