Bill Gates recommends the Travelling Wave Reactor

Bill Gates speaks at TED about our energy futures. After talking about the needed improvements in renewable energy, he seems to side with nuclear power, especially the Travelling Wave Reactor.

I’m glad Bill Gates is on the Nuclear reprocessing bandwagon, as the myth that the nuclear waste is an expensive storage problem for 100 thousand years needs to be BUSTED! But I’m just a little confused as to why he fixated on a type

that has never been built yet?

He pushes this theory that leaving it there alone to do it’s thing is a good safety bonus of this reactor.

“Today you’re always refuelling the reactor, so you have lots of people and lots of controls that could go wrong. That thing where you are opening it up and moving things in and out, that’s, that’s NOT GOOD! (Audience laughs). So if you have very cheap fuel, then you can put 60 years in, just think of it as a log, put it down and not have those same complexities, and it just sits there and burns for 60 years and then you’re done.”

So there’s a bit of discussion over at BNC, and we’ll see what the boffins say. One commenter has already pointed out:

eclipsenow – For sure there is going to be hot waste after the initial charge is burned. All the mass doesn’t disappear.

So far there is very little in the way of hard numbers for this reactor, and it is easy to find plenty of breathless hype, and difficult to find any rational discussions of the downsides.

I wrote elsewhere that at the moment the only thing they have is computer models, and I’m not so sure they can be relied on to predict the behavior of this assembly for its full 60+ design life.

As well it will produce several tens of tonnes of spent fuel, which will not be in easy form to handle, and will remain very hot for at least a couple of hundred years after the fuel is exhausted, and the unit retired. Thus it will most likely need to be buried on the spot, a factor that will limit where one can be placed.

And God help us if Gates insists that the controls run on Windows.

So the vibe here is that smaller spent fuel rods are easier to reprocess and handle, making it worth the loading and unloading exercise that Bill Gates so flippantly disregards. The fuel is reprocessed, burnt down to 90% of it’s mass and then stored for 300 years somewhere. I’d prefer if nuclear power plants were built near Police stations or military bases, and so the waste could be buried in a bunker that officials could keep an eye on, rather than having to employ security guards / services for 300 years. It’s weird how that feels like permaculture systems thinking creeping into nuclear power? Put the IFR next to the Military Academy and then they’ll keep the pests away. 😉 OK, watch the talk.

I don’t really know much at all about how the economics of nuclear power will play out. I used to think Amory Lovins had debunked nuclear as far, far too expensive, but Barry Brooks and friends have taken those studies to pieces. Stay tuned.

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