back to article Bill Gates discusses nuclear development deal with China

Bill Gates is holding talks with the China National Nuclear Corporation about building the first of a new breed of nuclear reactors that are fueled with what is currently considered radioactive waste. The system, dubbed a travelling wave reactor, is being developed by Intellectual Ventures, the investment vehicle and sometime …


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  1. HMB

    I hope the talks go ahead. I hope the idea get's properly tried too.

    One day Nuclear Companies told us they'd produce electricity too cheap to meter. People laugh and say that never happened. Well just maybe, they've just not managed to do it yet.

    I've talked to Doctors from the UK national lab and I know that Thorium and LFTR reactors are a long way off, so maybe this idea could be the next best thing.

    China has to be the most willing and able to engage in this sort of venture. What will be the fruit of it's investment if they pull it off? Will we be paying China royalties for energy generation?

    1. Ru

      "too cheap to meter"

      The nuclear industry was largely neutered in the west for political reasons, and the rest of the world has had to play catch-up. This is why we've all been limping along on reactors that were built using well established designs decades ago... all the construction and science expertise has basically aged to the point of retirement.

      It *could* have been done by now. Instead we've got windmills.

      1. strum

        Not quite

        "The nuclear industry was largely neutered in the west for political reasons"

        The nuclear industry was largely neutered in the west for economic reasons - it couldn't make money (if all the costs were taken into consideration).

        There has been no political ban on nukes - commercial organisations were free to develop them - but they couldn't make the sums work.

    2. Nuke


      "Too cheap to meter" was said by a member of the US Atomic Energy Commission, not by "Nuclear Companies".

      You might say that is hair splitting, but the industry would have been daft to say a thing like that because they would be inviting their income to be cut off. OTOH, such a claim *would* be in the interest of the USAEC because, as a QUANGO, it might have *increased* their government funding.

      Also, Strauss, being a physicist turned financial guy, and not an engineer, obviously lacked a grasp of what is involved in keeping engineering plant running. I am a nuclear engineer, and I know it, and that engineers laugh at that claim.

      The world is full of silly promises. I remember a politician saying that wind generators would never be built on land, except for a few protoypes, as they would be too ugly and intrusive. Where did that promise go?

    3. dssf


      Blue Energy?

      Will we need any algae to fight off some types?

      "We are of PEACE, ALWAYS".... :)

  2. b166er

    When I first saw the TED talk on this, I thought it would have legs.

    Seems it's only a matter of time (and of course, politics).

    Hats off again to BillG

    1. Ian Stephenson
      Thumb Up

      He certainly has form

      After all he picked up DOS for a song and built arguably one of the most influencial companies in the world out of it.

      I'll be watching this with interest and cheering him on all the way.

      Oh and I still resent paying the Microsoft tax. - I aint no Windoze Fanboi.

  3. Chris Miller
    Thumb Up

    Curse M$ as much as you like

    But here's a guy that's making a serious positive difference to the world.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      He always has of course. Curse Microsoft as much as you want but it too made a serious positive difference to the world. A fair amount of harm as well but MSDos and Windows gave a lot of people easy access to powerful computers.

    2. Flashy Red
      Thumb Up

      Can't argue with that!

    3. Vic

      > here's a guy that's making a serious positive difference to the world.

      That's yet to be proven.

      Let's see whether or not Intellectual Vultures tries to hold the technology to ransom with submarine patents before we celebrate too much...


    4. Goat Jam

      Saint Bill

      1) I'm sure he stands to make a pretty penny if the deal goes through.

      2) He has a looooong way to go to balance out the serious negative difference he has made (and still is)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Goat Jam

        Never knowingly accused Bill or MS of doing good. eh?

        It's a very tedious record, Goat Jam, but you continue to bang on about it however, as you well know: Bill gives practically all of his money to charity and MS were the main company responsible for putting affordable computers on everyone's desk.

        Do you think you'd have linux if it weren't for affordable computers on which home users could develop it? No, you couldn't, so thank Bill for linux.

        1. Goat Jam

          Bill Gates

          Estimated net worth is $57B. And you reckon he's given "practically all" his money to charity.

          As to never accusing Bill/ms of doing good?

          So fricking what?

          Does that make my points (he will make money from this deal/he has caused great harm to the IT industry) any less valid?

          If the best you can do to defend Bill is a nonsense claim that he gave all his money to charity and to attack me on a personal level then I would suggest you get yourself a better comment writer.

          Oh, and Bill Gates did not invent "affordable computers". Not even close. I have absolutely no idea where you got that particular bit of nonsense from.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Goat Jam

            It's a bit rich, you objecting to a personal attack, when I was merely pointing out that you've got form in personally attacking an other person. Although I didn't call you names and I wasn't abusive. Go back and have a look at some of your posts, some of the names you call people and have a think about it.

            It is far from clear if Bill will be making any money from this piece of work. To me it looks like his charity has donated money to a research company and he is trying to get the research company to be able to make an installation in China.

            Bill is on record as saying that he is leaving all his money to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, having left his children "enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing."

            I also didn't say that Bill invented affordable computers, just that Microsoft facilitated the placement of an affordable computer on every desk. It's likely that it would have been another company, had MS not been around at the time, but it wasn't, so it's MS we have to thank.

            1. Goat Jam

              It's a bit rich having your posting history brought up (in lieu of any actual valid point) by someone cowering behind an AC shield.


              Just for the record, the two points I made, which you have thus far failed to adequately address;

              1) Bill Gates stands to make a profit from his investment if this company succeeds.

              From the article:

              "The system is being developed by Intellectual Ventures, the investment vehicle and sometime patent troll set up by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, and taken to market by TerraPower, which is partially funded by Gates."

              Now, if that sounds like a benevolent charity to you then I'll have some of what you are smoking.

              2) Bill Gates has done immeasurable harm to the IT industry and has destroyed a multitude of innovative businesses in order to protect his illegally leveraged monopoly.

              This is a matter of historical record which I am not prepared to argue about.

              Now, instead of attacking my posting history from behind an AC cloak how about you actually respond to those points with something that is not arrant nonsense.

              Or bugger off, I don't much care either way.

              Oh, and "Microsoft facilitated the placement of an affordable computer on every desk" is nonsense. He provides an over priced and underwhelming monopoly OS and forces it to be installed on every PC sold.

              How things may have turned out without the drag of the Microsoft Tax holding the industry back is anybodies guess.


    5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      You know what - you're perfectly right.

      Screwing over a few hundred million customers and locking the entire planet on an OS that leaks security like a sieve is a small price to pay for a million-year supply of secure energy that also happens to get rid of nuclear waste.

      Because that is what it does, right ?

      1. Ru

        I'm sure you're all well aware of the money his charitable foundations have been plowing into dealing with malaria, etc? Regardless, get a sense of perspective. The US patent situation has facilitated years and years of lawsuits and threats of lawsuits that have built up a rich layer of FUD that has been smothering the rest of the industry. Look at the royalties that have to be paid to MS for patents they've claimed on technology used in Android! They can only do this because of US law. The rest of the world is rather more sensible about software patents, after all.

    6. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Then why isn't he looking at green technologies? he has enough money to make them viable.

      What is positive about nuclear waste? it's toxic and hard to dispose of.

      1. Andy Fletcher

        @ Giles Jones

        I'm litterally shaking with rage at your comment. Presumably you mean wind power, solar power or maybe even hamster power. None of that crap is comercially viable and you know it whether you chose to admit it or not. If no-one wants to do something unless the goverment subsidises it, it's not viable. If it was, a subsidy wouldn't be necessary would it now? Businesses don't need encouraging to do things that are comercially viable.

      2. JamesMcP

        It's less waste radioactivity per MW/hr than coal

        Hard to believe but true. From memory, every 1 million tons of coal has an effective power output of ~35MW-yr and contains a couple tons of fuel-worthy radioactives (this equates to a couple of parts-per-million). The effective power output of those ~3 tons of thorium/uranium/plutonium is about 37MW-yr.

        See that? 35 MW-yr of effective power from the coal, 37 MW-yr of effective nuclear power from the "junk" radioactives in the coal. There's more effective nuclear energy in coal than chemical energy. So coal produces MORE radioactivity in its waste per MW generated than nuclear. Lots more, actually, since the coal radioactives haven't been "burned" for power. At least 37MW-yrs of power (aka radioactivty) was extracted and converted into electricity from the 3 tons of fuel. The materials left in the coal ash have only naturally decayed.

        The difference is concentration. If you took the waste from the hypothetical 3 tons of fuel above and tilled it into 500 tons of wood ash, you'd wind up with something very much like the coal ash from the hypothetical 1 million tons of coal. And yes, coal ash is much more radioactive than coal, which is significantly more radioactive than dirt.

        So we don't have a nuclear waste surplus, we have a wood ash deficit.

      3. Peter Mc Aulay

        A reactor which burns nuclear waste is not green technology? How's that?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is such a huge place, if it goes wrong and explodes in its 40 year lifespan, what's a few square miles of radioactive waste or a couple of thousand lives to them. If it works they sell the power produced to us and become even more powerful. Win win.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It Will Be Fine

    As long as the control software is not windows based.

  6. hplasm
    Thumb Up

    Pull this one off, Bill-

    And the world will forgive you for Windows.

    Nice one.

  7. Alan Gregory 1


    I'm just glad that it's a long way away if it goes bang.

    That design has been suggested many times and the theory is sound, the numbers stack up, they are efficient and they do use what we currently consider to be waste - all good.

    The problems come in when you are in effect pumping liquid metal as a coolant. That is a particularly difficult engineering problem and one of the main reasons why this design of reactor has never taken off.

    They've been working away on this type of reactor since the 50's and there is nothing in that article that suggests that the technological hurdles have been overcome, merely a reiteration of the positives associated with this particular design.

    This is why just about every reactor outside of a laboratory situation is gas or water cooled.

    Second, it's not inherently safe. The pebble bed design will, under failure of cooling, shut itself down over a relatively short period of time. One of these babies won't and due to the difficulties with the sodium cooling are that much more difficult to shutdown.

    Cool it down, why not add water....hang on Sodium and Water react quite violently....quick where's the nearest plentiful source of liquid sodium that we can pump into the core?

    So build it a long way away from me or wait for the development of Thorium or maybe even fusion reactors.

    1. Duncan Macdonald


      The critical bit of the design is that the reactor will be hundreds of feet underground - if there is a coolant circulation failure sufficient to cause a meltdown all the radioactive components are well away from the biosphere.

      Also sodium cooled reactors are not as vunerable to overheating as water cooled reactors due to the large difference between the operating temperature (around 600C) and the boiling point of sodium (883C).

      In the sodium cooled fast breeder reactor from which this design derives, thermal convection of the sodium is sufficient to maintain the reactor at a safe level even if the coolant pumps fail.

      1. annodomini2


        The next nay-sayers argument will be contaminating ground water in the event that the reactor casing is breached.

  8. Tim Wolfe-Barry
    Thumb Up

    BillG goes up and up in my estimation

    Worthy successor to earlier generation of philanthropists - many current chief execs and *ankers could learn a thing or three!

    1. Nuke

      @ Tim Wolfe-Barry

      "Worthy successor to earlier generation of philanthropists"

      Yes, you mean like Carnegie, Nobel (called in his lifetime "The Merchant of Death") and Rockefeller? All complete barstards who, when they got old, desperately tried to repay some of their massive karma debt before it was too late. Just like Gates is trying now.

      When Gates has given away so much of his money away that he is left with no more than the average US citizen I will admire him for it. Even so, he should first be giving some back to his ripped-off custiomers, and let them decide if they want to lend it to build Chinese power stations or give it to charity; and if the latter, let them chose which one for themselves.

      1. John 62

        "When Gates has given away so much of his money away that he is left with no more than the average US citizen I will admire him for it."

        i) Looking back, I'm not sure customers were ripped off. We might think, but Linux is free! Well, welcome to the year of Linux on the Desktop. People don't even use desktops any more. I'm not going to defend certain business practices, but the competition wasn't really up to snuff anyway.

        ii) It's easy to be self-righteous with other people's money.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The last attemot I remember to use liquid sodium on a widespread industrial scale was the sodium-sulphur battery from Chloride (specifically, Chloride Silent Power Ltd), which was used in Lucas Chloride's electric vehicles in the late 1970s. You don't remember them? Exactly. I believe there's still one at the vehicle museum in Gaydon, a Bedford CF Dormobile donated to His Royal Highness Phil the Greek, for pollution-free travel round London. [Bedford CF = Ford Transit class]

    I vaguely remember in that context that part of the reason these liquid sodium things "don't need maintenance" is that they *can't* have maintenance. If they don't stay at temperature and have to be cooled down for maintenance, the chances of them ever working again afterwards are small.

    Anyone know whether (a) that was actually correct (b) that problem applies to TWR?

    If it's correct, can someone tell Bill before it's too late?

    1. Ru

      Liquid sodium cooled reactors have been used in various places for over fifty years. They work.

      I expect the people involved with this project have done their due diligence; would you really consider ripping off someone with that much money?

  10. Steven Roper

    The mass media will kill it

    with anti-nuclear hype before it gets off the ground.

    "Oh noes it's NUKULAR!!1!1one! It MUST BE STOPPED! Remember Three Mile Island, remember Chernobyl, remember Fukushima! We'll all be irradiated and the world turned into a nukular wasteland! Ban it now!"

    Someone above mentioned electricity too cheap to meter and perhaps we just haven't achieved it yet. Well, the reason we haven't achieved it yet, and probably never will, is because of Murdoch and Co wanting to make a quick buck with senseless sensationalism.

    Although maybe that's why Billy G is going to China with this, since they seem not to be so beset with such bullshit...

    1. HMB

      Mass Media

      Yeah I'm afraid you might be right, but if the tech works it's going to give China an economic boost like we haven't seen. It's not like China needed any help to overtake us anyhow.

      So maybe when China is a more developed nation than the US or the UK, when it's richer and it's people live happier, longer lives than us, maybe then our mass media will be angrily asking why we didn't invest in this earlier?

      You could make jokes about the China Syndrome here, but it satirised itself brilliantly enough convincing anti nuclear campaigners that nuclear waste has potent anti gravity qualities.

  11. annodomini2

    "depleted uranium is plentiful, cheap, and is of limited use in atomic weaponry"

    True, but are the byproducts of this reactor capable of being used for atomic weaponry?

    This is what will create the political mess.

    1. Ru

      Extraction of weapons grade material from commercial grade reactors is exceedingly non-trivial. Have a look at something like the CANDU design; nuclear armed CANDU licensees (like India) built additional reactors of a different design to create material for their nuclear weapons programs because it was easier to do that than to try and hack their 'safeguarded' commerical systems to do it for them.

      1. annodomini2

        I never discussed if was it easy to do, only if it is possible, as this is the angle some of the nay sayers will come from.

  12. billium

    I'm pretty sure he'll want his 90% profit, and the extortion letters will be going out to the rest of the industry.

  13. Trollslayer
    Thumb Up

    Now this is interesting

    Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is a major headache so if it is possible to get power from it then this is a major advance - I really hope this works out.

  14. Grubby


    Now there'll be enough power to keep a Windows laptop running for more than 4 hourse :)

    Seriously though, good news. Well done Billy.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sure he was a ruthless businessman

    but at least he's putting those billions to good use now which is more than a certain other computer hardware/software company founder did.

    He's perhaps the only well known tech person I'd actually quite like to meet.

    AC so I can stand behind this lead lined, flame proof shield.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I believe the Sheriff of Nottingham also went into philanthropy at the end of his career, too.

  16. dwieske

    why wait? build IFR's now

    In stead of developing yet another variant on a working tech (the IFR), why not just start building these as GE has a commercial model available to build now!!! (the S-PRISM).

    A country like Belgium could run on the waste of current plants for several centuries with these puppies!!!! no co2/particle pollution, cheap electricity AND a solution for nuclear waste/warheads......and STILL people are against it!!!!!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I won't believe it's safe...

    ... until it's been tested in Lewis Page's house.

  18. Gerhard den Hollander

    Am I the only one

    who gets slightly nervous about the idea of Microsoft building nuclear reactors ?

    In all seriousness though, if this becomes even half as good as they claim, it would solve most of china's energy problems in one fell swoop.

    And that for , what to the chines gvmt, would be pocket money

    1. ian 22

      You are not the only one

      Microsoft + Nuclear = BFOD (Blue Flash Of Death)

  19. brudinie

    Liquid thorium fluoride reactors

    China are also investing serious research into Liquid Thorium Fluoride reactors.

    The big advantage with this kind of reactor is that it does not use any weapons grade material.

    Deplted uranium can be used in "dirty" bombs where as thorium would not have the same effect.

    Therefore, China are better off (in my opinion) sticking with their own advanced fision research:

    Also, a big advantage of liquid thorium flouride reactors is that they are a tested and PROVEN fision technology. Reactors have been built and have worked - as far back as the 1950s I think.

    The reason that thorium fission was never implemented by the governments of the world was because they needed to subsidise the nuclear weapons industry. Also IT IS a very viable alternative to fossil fuel and that just wont do now will it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The reason that thorium fission was never implemented by the governments of the world was because they needed to subsidise the nuclear weapons industry."

      Keep reading from that list of talking points. Why haven't countries like Sweden gone for thorium? Is it because of all those nukes they have lying around. Sheesh!

      1. Ru

        And what about all those carefully engineered commerical reactor designs that are intended to make it impractical for licensees to use them to make weapon's grade material?

        If there was a ready-to-go practical thorium design, you can bet that it would be out there already. Too many people want such a thing, and us nuclear armed oppressors don't want anyone else getting the wherewithal to make their own nukes. Everyone wants alternatives to fossil fuel too; the world is a worse place for the existence of coal-fired powerstations.

        If you cannot see the benefit of sealed, straightfoward super low maintenance reactor designs then you have bigger problems to worry about than your bizarrely misaimed paranoia.


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