Gates said it is “a necessary, worthy and surmountable challenge to correct the naysayers”.
He said the need for clean energy is dire and the operation of nuclear power plants produces no greenhouse gas emissions. Innovations in nuclear technology are making nuclear energy safer and more affordable, and countries around the world are starting to adopt nuclear power, Gates said.
“Nuclear is actually safer than any other source of [power] generation,” Gates said. “You know, coal plants, coal particulate, natural gas pipelines blowing up. The deaths per unit of power on these other approaches are far higher.”
“There’s a new generation [of nuclear power] that solves the economics, which has been the big, big problem,” he said, referring to the fact that the power plants are very expensive to build. “At the same time, it revolutionises the safety.”
Innovations include using liquid sodium instead of water to cool the reactor at a lower pressure, which can help avoid meltdowns and also allows nuclear power plants to be smaller and therefore simpler to build.
“As we solve these engineering problems and cost problems, I hope people will be open-minded to see how incredibly safe the next generation will be,” Gates said.
Gates is an investor in and founder of TerraPower, which in 2020 teamed up with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to launch reactor and energy system architecture called Natrium that features a cost-competitive sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system.
The companies said at the time that the Natrium technology builds on that used in solar thermal generation. It will offer “abundant clean energy in time to help meet climate goals”, they said.
TerraPower is also developing a travelling wave reactor (TWR) designed to be a liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel. The company’s third potential reactor technology, the molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR), has the potential to be a relatively low-cost reactor that can operate in new, higher temperature regimes. This means it is intended to do more than generate electricity and is being designed to provide carbon-free heat for industrial processes, and thermal storage.