Bill Gates, nuclear superpower?

Bill Gates, nuclear superpower?

Summary: Bill Gates has apparently taken it upon himself to start his own nuclear superpower. Unlike Pinky and the Brain, who want to take over the world, Bill merely wants to save it.

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TOPICS: Telcos
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Bill Gates has apparently taken it upon himself to start his own nuclear superpower. Actually, as it turns out, he'd like to start many nuclear superpowers. And unlike Pinky and the Brain, who always want to take over the world, Bill merely wants to save it.

And, if the politicians and naysayers don't get in the way, he just might.

According to BusinessWeek's Shigeru Sato, a Gates investment, TerraPower, is in discussion with Toshiba to develop small-scale nuclear power generators.

A little imagination goes a long way, and if you close your eyes, you might just see how the conversation that started it all might have gone.

Bill: So, now that I've left Microsoft, I've been a little bored lately.

Therapist: Go on.

Bill: I've been thinking, you know, that it'd be super to have my own nuclear reactors.

Therapist: Well, that's certainly one way to go. But have you really thought things through?

Bill: What do you mean?

Therapist: Well, you know "blue screen of death" in nuclear-speak means, like, actual death, right? And you can't just, you know, reboot your reactors every time something goes wrong.

Bill (grinning): That's exactly what I plan to do.

And that is exactly what Gates is planning on doing.

He's trying to reboot the nuclear industry with a concept called a Traveling-Wave Reactor. Put simply -- very simply -- a Traveling Wave Reactor doesn't generate tons upon tons of spent, radioactive fuel. Instead, it eats the fuel we've already created, running for nearly a 100 years without needing more fuel, and without generating waste.

The best way to understand what Gates is trying to accomplish is to watch this YouTube video of his presentation at the TED conference recently. It's about 30 minutes, is absolutely fascinating, and is totally worth your time to watch:

This is all part of the Gates' post-Microsoft work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Say what you will about Microsoft and Windows, the net worth Gates' derived from those product lines has fueled one of the most broad-reaching philanthropic efforts in the history of mankind.

Have you made a charitable donation recently? TalkBack below and tell us about your favorite causes. Or, you know, what you'd do if you had your own nukes.

Topic: Telcos

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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50 comments
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  • interesting to see...

    a nuclear power plant run by Windows operating system, I'm thinking Skynet!
    nosyrat.com
    NosyRat
    • No Problemo!

      Even if a "Skynet" running on a Windows platform stayed up long enough to become self-aware, it'd crash before it could launch a nuclear attack!
      ausvirgo
  • RE: Bill Gates, nuclear superpower?

    I've wondered for years about how nuclear subs can be so efficient, but can't be adapted to land use, supposedly...
    Foster Parents Plan international is my personal charitty of choice.
    JoeKach
    • not just subs

      They work quite well upon super-carriers, too.
      Consider that the super-carrier tasked to Haiti
      after the earthquake was powered by two of them.
      tkejlboom
      • All US Naval Vessels are powered by Nuclear power

        All major Naval vessels and subs are powered by nuclear power plants. There are only 13 subs that run on Diesel fuel. 3 of which belong to the US. I believe only 1 of them is still in service. All US Naval Carriers are nuke powered too. To date, over 5500 reactor years of accident-free experience have been accumulated by the US military to date.
        But these are all Large-scale power plants. building one for the home? I don't know. It's a great thought but, I guarantee the power companies and IPOs won't let that happen. These mini-power plants could effectively destroy the power industry. I don't see the CEOs of the IPOs allowing this to happen in my lifetime.
        Plus the chances of something going wrong is way too high. Bill is talking about building Unattended nuclear devices. Every nuke plant currently in operation is manned and monitored 24x7. How is Bill planning on dealing with things like radiation leaks, Coolant leaks (which leads to catastrophic core failure. Oh damn!) Earthquakes, Fires and Floods?
        There are just too many issues to cover here but you see where I'm going with this.
        I'd love to have one but, I like having things like hair and children too much to risk it.
        Dr.Who
        • Not All, Just Aircraft Carriers and Nearly All Subs

          Re: "All US Naval Vessels are powered by Nuclear power"

          You title is inconsistent with your post.
          Cardhu
    • Scalability

      That type of design doesn't scale up well.
      fairportfan
    • Water

      It helps that Navy Reactors are floating in their cooling
      source... much less chance of a runaway reaction.

      The best feature of the Naval Nuclear program is the
      discipline of the Naval Technicians.

      Hard to duplicate in civilian life.

      Imagine... you're a Navy Nuclear Specialist, feeling sleepy on
      your watch?

      Remember, Leavenworth Prison is waiting for you if you fall
      asleep...

      Tap your relief on the shoulder and get out of there before
      you screw up and get court-martialed.
      Jkirk3279
      • Uh, no it's not...

        The nuclear power plants in Naval ships and subs is completely sealed off from the outside. Sea water is not used in the reactor cooling process. If it were, we'd be turning the worlds oceans radioactive since the cooling process brings the water very close to the fuel rods. Even the heavy water steam created to power the turbines is contained, condensed and recycled thousands of times before it becomes too contaminated by radiation and has to be changed. The fuel and the water are what you're left with and have to be disposed of at some point. The casks of spent fuel rods and contaminated water pass through my town regularly.
        Dr.Who
        • You Are Correct That Reactor Cooling Is A Closed Loop

          But your explanation shows lack of understanding of the primary loop, secondary loop, and condenser cooling.

          Go here:
          https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/mragheb/www/NPRE%20402%20ME%20405%20Nuclear%20Power%20Engineering/Pressurized%20Water%20Reactors.pdf

          and refer to Figures 3 and 8.

          Or go here:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressurized_water_reactor

          and scroll down to "Design."

          Or here:

          http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/39402/53362716.pdf?sequence=1

          Refer to p. 31 /94 in the section entitled "Brief Description of the PWR Design."

          All three sources show three distinct and separate phases of cooling:

          - The primary loop composed of water pressurized to over 2000 psi which removes core heat and transfers it to the secondary loop;

          - The secondary loop, where water is turned into superheated steam in a steam generator and then routed through a steam turbine;

          - The condenser, where condenser cooling water cools the secondary loop steam and hot water into feed water to be returned to the steam generator.

          Navy nuclear reactors are just implementations of a Rankine heat engine with a fission reactor and a primary loop in place of a coal or oil boiler. The thermodynamics have not changed in the entire life of steam power.

          Condenser coolant is supplied by an ambient water supply such as a reservoir, a natural water feature, or cooling towers. Naval vessels with steam propulsion use their surrounding water for condenser cooling water.

          So yes, Naval vessels powered by steam do indeed have hull penetrations for condenser cooling inlets and outlets. This includes nuclear-propelled vessels.
          Cardhu
    • Submarine Nuclear Power Plants

      use the same reactor design as that of American land-based reactors - the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR).

      They operate safely and without incident because they have Navy-trained operators for an inherently safe design.

      Three Mile Island was just a larger scale PWR. Its failure was triggered by a pressure relief valve that stuck open. But the real failure was the operator - turning off emergency cooling when it came on exactly as it was designed to do.

      In spite of this and other operator mistakes, the main result from TMI was pure hysteria. Those who left the area in panic on airline flights received more exposure from background radiation than those who remained behind.

      Chernobyl, on the other hand, was an inherently unsafe design.

      The big difference between Navy submarine reactors and civilian reactors is that Navy reactors are not subject to public hysteria.
      Cardhu
      • You forgot 1 thing....

        The land-based plants use Open Cooling Towers where all Naval vessels use a closed design for both core and turbines. What do you think those giant cooling towers are for at those land based plants and why ships and subs don't have them. It's a major difference in their designs. The principles of operation are the same however, their designs are very different.
        Dr.Who
        • No, I Didn't Forget Cooling Towers

          Naval and land-based PWRs both have primary and secondary loops implementing a Rankine heat engine. Both Naval and land-based systems use an ambient water supply to cool the spent secondary loop steam and water in the condenser.

          For land-based nuclear power plants, that water comes from a local reservoir, a natural water feature, or a water supply held in cooling towers. For example:

          http://www.nucleartourist.com/type/pwr.htm

          For a Naval PWR, the ambient condensing water supply is the surrounding water displaced by the vessel.

          Refer to this post for more explanation:

          http://talkback.zdnet.com/5208-11155-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=77385&messageID=1513489
          Cardhu
  • Back to basics

    Let him invest more in solar and wind energy so it becomes affordable to everyone. On days when it's not so sunny or not so windy, we could have prisoners start pedaling on bicycles. Those bicycles generate energy, they won't serve them to ride their way out of prison. That way they are doing something for society.
    TxM2xTx
  • The Case for Terrestrial Energy

    Way to go, Bill!

    http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/iss
    ue.asp?year=2008&month=02

    (You'll have to copy and paste since talkback is
    screwing up the link.)
    drokkon
  • vaporware!

    like most of M$ products it won't be of any use.
    Linux Geek
    • At least the Gate's are trying to make a difference

      Other than bad mouthing Microsoft are you making any difference?
      rmark@...
      • what difference?

        if you know anything about the history of "tax exempt foundations," the 'why' and 'what they can do' of it, you'd know Billy has zero choice in the matter.
        pgit
  • Support Greenland's farmers

    A thousand years ago there were farmers on Greenland. Then the earth started cooling and it was covered with ice. Despite the fact that the earth has been warming since the end of the 18th century, Greenland is still mostly covered with ice.

    The effect of CO2 is supposed, but never been proven scientifically. It might have some effect, but given the duration of the warming trend, there are certainly other, more powerful, factors.
    jorjitop
    • the sun

      There has actually been a bit of a cooling going on since the late 1970's. CO2 also is not a cause, but rather an effect. History (core samples, geological record etc) shows CO2 concentrations increased long after the fact of a given warming trend, by severl hundred years in most cases.

      Thank God people are beginning to see through this 'climate change' scam, and seeing it for the power grap/enrichment scheme for the already-super-rich that it is. The French recently shouted down a proposed "carbon tax" over there... great news.
      pgit