Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why is Bill Gates Supporting Traveling Wave Nukes?

Gates said he is backing development of "terrapower" reactors that could be fueled by nuclear waste from disposal facilities or generated by today's power plants.
He broke down variables in a carbon-dioxide-culprit formula, homing in on a conclusion that the answer to the problem is a source of energy that produces no carbon.
...Gates touted terrapower as more reliable than wind or solar, cleaner than burning coal or natural gas, and safer than current nuclear plants.
"With the right materials approach it could work," Gates said. "Because you burn 99 percent of the waste, it is kind of like a candle."
Nuclear waste fed into a terrapower reactor would potentially burn for decades before being exhausted.
"Today we are always refueling the reactor so lot of controls and lots of things that can go wrong," Gates said. "That is not good. With this, you have a piece of fuel, think of it like a log, that burns for 60 years and it is done."
Researching and testing terrapower will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, with the building of a test reactor likely to cost in the billions. Once the technology is proven, market forces will drive down costs, Gates predicted.
Work on terrapower [has] been done in France and Japan, and there has been interest in India, Russia, China and the United States, according to the famed philanthropist.
Gates said that if he were allowed a single wish in the coming 50 years, it would be a global "zero carbon" culture.
"If I could pick a president or a vaccine, which I love, this is the wish I would pick," he said.
"We need energy miracles. The microprocessor and Internet are miracles. This is a case where we have to drive and get the miracle in a short time-line."
Better nuclear reactors are quite important.  Fourth generation reactors such as Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors and fifth generation reactors such as "traveling wave reactors" will be safer than the current generation of reactors.
As it runs, the core in a traveling-wave reactor gradually converts nonfissile material into the fuel it needs. Nuclear reactors based on such designs "theoretically could run for a couple of hundred years" without refueling, says John GĀ­illeland, manager of nuclear programs at Intellectual Ventures.
Gilleland's aim is to run a nuclear reactor on what is now waste. Conventional reactors use uranium-235, which splits easily to carry on a chain reaction but is scarce and expensive; it must be separated from the more common, nonfissile uranium-238 in special enrichment plants. Every 18 to 24 months, the reactor must be opened, hundreds of fuel bundles removed, hundreds added, and the remainder reshuffled to supply all the fissile uranium needed for the next run. This raises proliferation concerns, since an enrichment plant designed to make low-enriched uranium for a power reactor differs trivially from one that makes highly enriched material for a bomb.
But the traveling-wave reactor needs only a thin layer of enriched U-235. Most of the core is U-238, millions of pounds of which are stockpiled around the world as leftovers from natural uranium after the U-235 has been scavenged. The design provides "the simplest possible fuel cycle," says Charles W. Forsberg, executive director of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Project at MIT, "and it requires only one uranium enrichment plant per planet."_ TechnologyReview
Okay, whether or not Gates truly believes in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, or whether he is just saying all the right words to pacify the vacuous academics, journalists, pundits, and politicians who would make his life miserable if he adopted a more rational view -- at least he is pushing for a safe and rational abundant energy policy.
That sets him apart from the crowd that dominates the Obama administration and the vast swarms of high-cost environmental lobbyists swarming around Washington DC, NYC, and the capitals of Europe and Australia.
Climate change hysteria has its uses, if only to put the sheep of global warming back to sleep while the real people get to work solving problems. 




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