In the virtual event Nuclear Energy Assembly, hosted by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), Bill Gates spoke about the need to use more nuclear power to decarbonise the power grid affordably. Below are some highlights from his keynote speech.
Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, two global crises where developing countries need support
Bill Gates compared the climate change crisis to the current pandemic situation around the world. Just as there are countries that need support with vaccines, they will also need support to contribute to the zero-emissions goal.
"We still have a long way to go before we can say that we've contained the pandemic, especially in the countries around the world that don't have full access to vaccines. Because scientists worked together on vaccines by sharing data online and working together on critical trials, we now have the tools to bring the pandemic to an end.
The world faces another historic global crisis in climate change, one that threatens to be devastating to all life on Earth if we don't act now to mitigate it.
Currently the world emits roughly 51 billion tonnes a year in greenhouse gases. We need to get that number to net zero within the next 30 years. This is especially true because, as with vaccines, many low and middle income countries don't yet have the same access to energy as wealthy nations. This inequality is holding back their development. So while getting to net-zero emissions we also have to provide more energy availability."
"While getting to net-zero emissions we also have to provide more energy availability"
He highlighted the importance of nuclear power to solve "the dual threats of global energy poverty and climate change."
"An essential tool to solving both is advanced nuclear power. Nuclear power of course is the only carbon-free energy source we have that can deliver power day and night, throughout every season, almost anywhere on Earth. And it's been proven to work at a large scale. It's hard to imagine a future where we can decarbonise our power grid affordably without using more nuclear power.
"It's hard to imagine a future where we can decarbonise our power grid affordably without using more nuclear power"
TerraPower and Natrium
With this in mind, Bill Gates co-founded TerraPower, a nuclear innovation company. He believes that "any technology can change, with improvements in costs that are very impressive." Thus, TerraPower thinks "like a technology company rather than an energy company." He believes that their work "is essential to solving climate change and bringing clean, reliable and affordable energy to everyone."
TerraPower's energy system, Natrium, was designed in a partnership between TerraPower and GE Hitachi. According to Gates, "instead of using a reactor's heat to generate steam and spin a turbine, Natrium uses it to run a massive molten salt energy storage system, one that is an order of magnitude larger than the biggest lithium ion battery storage system currently in existence. That means Natrium can provide steady baseload power when needed, but it can also ramp up and down as generation from variable renewable technologies like wind and solar falls, when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. In addition, Natrium's design reduces the costs and the time of construction for nuclear power plants."
TerraPower is a nuclear innovation company that has designed Natrium, an energy system that can reduce the costs and construction time of nuclear power plants, as well as provide steady baseload power
More policies to support carbon-free power generation
Bill Gates feels optimistic about the future of nuclear energy, with "many innovative companies are working on bringing new nuclear technologies to market, and policy makers are recognising the need for these technologies, to solve climate change."
"Many innovative companies are working on bringing new nuclear technologies to market, and policy makers are recognising the need for these technologies"
Bill Gates ended his participation with a call to global action:
"I strongly believe that nuclear power must play a role in getting the world to net zero. To reach that goal, we need to work together, just as virologists worked together to create COVID vaccines at the fastest pace in human history."
Cover image: Bill Gates (Photo: TerraPower)