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back to article Bill Gates goes (mini) nuclear

A startup firm funded in part by Bill Gates is in talks with Toshiba about creating small, efficient nuclear energy reactors that are fueled not by treacherous uranium-235 or plutonium-239, but by relatively benign uranium-238. According to a report (paid subscription) in the Wall Street Journal, a Toshiba spokesman says that …

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Go

Flux capacitor supply

I want my Mr Fusion box generating 1.21GW now please; waiting round for lightning is so passe....

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The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

This sounds good, and I'm not normally a fan of Nuclear.

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Clean but....

The proliferation of small high power generators will still exacerbate the whole global warming thing. They aren't replacing fossil fuel generators with these units, they are plonking them where there was nothing before, and that is a bad thing. We will all eventually succumb to the heat-death of the universe if unlimited power is available (clean or not).

Or am i monging some serious doom here?

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Yes we will

>We will all eventually succumb to the heat-death of the universe

But it will take some time.

ttfn

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What are you talking about?

That more people having 4 bar heaters will be enough to heat up the world, or that we should have no more power genaration than we do? I realy don't get what your getting at... Why is it a bad thing to have new clean power?

Appart from anything else they will reduce the number of genorators, and increase the use of low carbon transport.

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Re : Clean but....

Sorry to point out that "we" will all succumb to the heat-death of the universe anyway

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Anonymous Coward

Bass Ackwards

The 'heat death of the universe' is when the universe has lost all its heat, not when it heats up or have I misunderstood your point?

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point

its when the universe heats to a uniform temperature, therefore preventing any heat transfer (and the ability to generate energy from it).

My point is that MORE generation is bad, but REPLACEMENT generation is good.

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A Bit selfish

"They aren't replacing fossil fuel generators with these units, they are plonking them where there was nothing before, and that is a bad thing."

That might possibly be a bad thing for you. Although I doubt it.

But i think the poor buggers with no electricity in the third world won't sympathise much with you.

Talk about selfish!

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Boffin

Heat Death?

That depends on several assumptions that may or may not hold water.

An interesting theory postulates that an ever expanding universe increases the maximum entropy value faster than the total entropy increases, effectively getting away from heat death.

The second law of thermodynamics is quite empirical and it does not take into consideration things like black holes, dark matter, quantum dynamics and most of the XX century discoveries.

Personally, I'll wait for a complete standard model of physics before considering the final fate of the universe.

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Re : point

Why is more generation bad ?

Global warming isn't driven by man-made energy generation. All the man-made generation is SWAMPED by solar radiation - it's about 70000 times the electricity generation on the planet. Total solar radiation striking the earth is about 5E24J /year which dwarfs man-made generation. The total output of the sun is 10 orders of magnitude greater than the radiation arriving on earth and that's a little star in a quiet backwater. So I don't think humans are contributing to the eventual heat death of the universe in a meaningful way.

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Re : point

Should have been "Global warming isn't driven DIRECTLY by man-made energy generation." Of course any generation that involves carbon dioxide production may well drive global warming

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Small

But is is small enough to power a flying car???

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Ctrl-Alt-Del

Nuclear reactors from the man who brought us the Blue Screen of Death.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Jobs Halo

Ctrl-Alt-Shift-Del

Quite right!

That's why we should wait for the Apple version: iFusion - it just works.

(or as Jobs would say "Boom!")

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Headmaster

Nucelar?

Surely the correct US spelling is nucular?

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FAIL

ah, nothing like leaving it to your grandchildren...

"a TWR can run for 50 to 100 years without refueling or removing any used fuel" and "elimination of the need to dispose of that pesky nucelar waste."

There's a word missing at the end of that sentence: "yet".

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No

The whole point of the TWR technology is that it runs on what is now classed as nuclear waste.

So it isn't missing that final word.

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Benign Bill?

The Intellectual Venture website seems to be long of promise and short on detail. It could be that this suggestion from the Wikipedia entry about the design they are proposing is not be far wrong:

"Its theoretical existence and publication before a working prototype has been developed may be a means of extorting license fees rather than actually furthering the state of the art. The company carrying the patent has been described as a patent troll. As such, although the invention may not work in reality, it may work as a chilling effect on breeder reactors."

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Anonymous Coward

If this were true...

...why get Toshiba involved? A patent troll works alone - there wouldn't be any point in getting a 3rd-party involved and yet they're in talks with Toshiba about developing the technology (because of Toshiba's expertise in building nuclear reactors no doubt.)

And since when has Wikipedia been trust worthy? Think about who could have written that entry and what their agenda might be.

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Boffin

Wikifidlia

Don't really have time to track down all the sources just now, but he held a talk on this at Ted a while back:

http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html

check out the one about 'innovating to zero' once you are outside of your company's video blocking firewall :)

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How big is it?

As above - how big would the final installation be? I assume its still relatively power station sized? No TWR's on every street corner.

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And why not?

>No TWR's on every street corner.

Supposing there is one per street? or even one buried in each garden (depending on size)? we could all have a stable, non-polluting (for 50-100 years at least) power supply that would be able to wean us off oil, gas and coal rather quickly.

How long before electric vehicles wipe out the internal combustion engine?

Rather than having a national grid it could be managed on a far more local level.

ttfn

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Black Helicopters

Think of the children

At the risk of coming over all Elf and Safety, there might just be a small security issue in having boxes full of radioisotopes every few hundred yards.

At the moment those boxes are full size reactors, there aren't very many of them, and they're relatively easy to put chain link fence and armed guards around.

Small boxes all over the place would be impossible to secure properly, and all too easy for International Terrorists/National Terrorists/Hoodies to have at with explosive charges or pickaxes.

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awsome

once every +/- 75 years you get a knock on the door.

excuse me sir, iv come to replace your uranium.

Sign me up, especially if i can run a 3phase off it to charge my car.

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Pint

Sad geek alert!

Wasn't there a story on a Star Trek episode where this sort of happened? They put some wonderful magic energy thing all over a planet, some nutters broke into one of the main energy plants, started a chain reaction that wasted the planet and all life on it.

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Re : Sad geek alert!

That kind of stuff happens so often !

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Electric cars are a niche application

"How long before electric vehicles wipe out the internal combustion engine?"

Why would they? If ample, cheap electricity is available, it would make a lot more sense to synthesize pure (sulfur-free) hydrocarbons out of atmospheric CO2 and water, and use them to fuel IC vehicles. Since we'd be taking as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as putting back in, the only greenhouse-gas contribution would be water vapor. And transportation's contribution to greenhouse gasses already isn't all that large - take out extracting, refining, and burning natural fossil fuel and it's negligible.

Electric vehicles are a lousy idea for most applications. They require lots of high-density batteries, which means mining lithium (wasteful and destructive), manufacturing batteries, recycling batteries at the end of their short lives, and hauling a bunch of weight around. They have lousy range and long refuel cycles.

Internal combustion engines have great power density, and we already have a lot of them, plus a whole infrastructure for distributing the fuel and refueling vehicles. Fuel is easy to store and transport.

Hell, with some improvements in fuel cell technology, it'd probably make more sense to build an electric car (if you absolutely must have one) using fuel cells and synthesized pure hydrocarbons than with lithium-based batteries. Or just a good old diesel-electric design.

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Go

This is what we need

If this is can live up to its potential, then I think we're on to a winner here.

The idea of a network of reactors chugging away at peak efficiency and using their excess capacity at times of low demand to hydrolyse hydrogen from water of desalinate seawater into something usable for agriculture would go a long way to helping save the planet.

Of course, this is just me being hopelessly optimistic before I start work today.

Ask me later and I might be more cynical.

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Triple AIGlazed Windows ....... with Bullet Proof RockIT Protection?

Rik,

That All sounds extremely familiar and far too similar to NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive IT to dismiss as being something other than an interesting Parallel AIdDevelopment. Has Billy Boy Gates been joining up Virtual Dots for the Greater Cosmic Picture?

Is Mr Gates Venturing into Great Game Relative Field Theory .......... or, if one prefers, Great Game Relative Theory Fields? ........ which are Multi Dimensional to at least a factor of an arbitrary eleven if one is to believe Stephen Hawking.

That of course would suggest that there are any number of Parallel Dimensions in which to Work, Rest and/or Play ...... which DOES Create a Vast Playground in which to Exercise Possibilities and their Future Probability in that Place in Space we call Reality.

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Crivens.

I'd have one in my back garden then. I know Norfolk isn't really the third world , but I..Oh, hold on.

If this works, are there any drawbacks AT ALL?

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Coat

Norfolk

Nope, no drawbacks at all for Norfolk dwellers, I hear that they already have six digits on each hand :-p

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If it works....

it will be great

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Alert

I agree, but....

...this just sounds too good to be true. The (very simplistic) explanatation of the process makes it sound like a piece of cake, which begs the question why it's taken so long to get going. (Hell, it's not like the best minds in science haven't been working on nuclear power and weapons for 80 years or so).

All smells a bit too much like a marketing push worthy of those crooks at Steorn. From the pamphlet "the TWR can theoretically run forever". Ah-ha-ha-ha. No.

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Unhappy

"elimination of the need to dispose of that pesky nuclear waste"

Unfortunately that won't be eliminated, at least in the long run.

Nuclear waste consists of both the fragments of fissionable material (that stuff doesn't just vanish when the neutrons hit it), which tend to be radioactive themselves, and the surrounding reactor structure which becomes radioactive over time as fast neutrons hit it. The fact that the TWR's running off depleted rather than enriched uranium won't make much difference to either of these.

If the TWR runs as a sealed unit for its lifetime you _will_ remove the need to open it up and swap out horridly active (and potentially leaky) fuel rods, which is good, but at the end of that lifetime you'll still have a box full of nuclear waste you'll need to deal with in some way.

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Re: the need to dispose...

"you'll still have a box full of nuclear waste you'll need to deal with in some way."

A sealed box of relatively small volume is a vastly simpler disposal problem than an open system, such as conventional reactors or indeed the large amounts of low-level waste churned out by the routine use of radioactive isotopes in industry and medicine.

And then, if we're counting, let's not forget the radioactive waste spewed by coal-fired plants into the surrounding atmosphere. Oh hang on, the fossil fuel industry never has to clean up. I forgot.

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Well....

If it operates as a sealed unit for its lifetime, maybe it can be disposed of as a sealed unit at end-of-life...?

This all goes back to the question: what size is it? Can it be stuck on a (very large) truck and driven to a spent coal-mine for underground disposal without dismantling?

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....but

That'd be nice, but if you could make disposable sealed units that could be safely disposed of like that all we'd need to do with current waste is make an empty TWR case, pop the nasty stuff inside, seal it up and park it down a mineshaft.

The hypothetical expired TWR would have the same problems/objections as present day disposal problems - "what if it leaks/gets dug into by ignorant post-apocalypse ancstors/mutates rabbits which then breach containment", etc...

@Ken H: Each box might be small, but they are hoping to make a lot of them - could turn out to be a sizeable problem overall. And low level industrial/medical waste is a separate issue to TWRs altogether.

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but, but

"Each box might be small, but they are hoping to make a lot of them - could turn out to be a sizeable problem overall. And low level industrial/medical waste is a separate issue to TWRs altogether."

Could be. Obviously the numbers matter. The article was talking about several hundred MW a pop, which means we are talking thousands not millions. These aren't going to be the plastic bags of the 21st century.

Low-level waste, on the other hand, might well be. Yeah, its a separate issue, but I thought it worth flagging up society's double standard on radiation. Whilst society has largely turned away from radioactive technologies for power generation it has happily gorged itself on such technologies in industrial and medical applications. As far as I can see, you are allowed to "dispose" of the latter by diluting it down to low-level and chucking it in a hole (*), but the former is immoral and mustn't be produced in the first place. (Sigh! If only it were *just* the numbers that mattered.)

(* Or, if you are a coal-fired power station, chucking it up the chimney and letting it fall on the neighbours.)

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FAIL

Nuclear waste IS a problem!

Here in germany we have a VERY big problem with a super stable and dry salt mine which was picked as a dump for all nuclear waste. It should last for several thousand years and now, a couple decades later, is instable and flooded with lots of highly poisonous and radioactive waste in corroding containers stuck down where nobody can survive any more.

Oh, companies like Vattenfall and Eon and RWE don't pay a dime for that, what are taxes good for?.

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So where's the problem?

Leave it down there and don't send anyone down to look at it. Problem solved.

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It doesn't stay down there

we have to spend millions of tax Euros to keep it from poisoning our drinking water.

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Newclear

Can i copyright this, do you think?

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Re: Newclear

In the US, probably. Anywhere else, I think you are about 60 years too late. (I know for a fact that it was used when I was a kid, if only to piss off the greentards.)

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I'll have two

one at the house and one at work, so I can juice up a leccy car

Oh and one in the middle of nowhere for when I run out of go

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Only really need one

Put a wheel at each corner, attach a hefty electric motor to the reactor output, and away you go. Plug your house into the car (rather than vice versa) when you're at home, and you're sorted there too.

May have a few problems with low bridges, but on the other hand zero emissions so no congestion charge and low road tax.

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Pint

Small Reactors...

...or even a waste canister could heat my house.

When im at the disco, the glow would be a plus.

But can it cool my 211?

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Happy

On a Whiteboard *everything* looks easy.

Pretty much *all* modern reactor designs incorporate walk-away-safe features designed to shut it down and continue the heat removal (essential to avoid core meltdown) despite loss of pump power, large amounts of coolant etc. Sealed for life reactor designs have been developed by both the Brazilian and South African nuclear authorities. the holy grail remains the simple sub-critical reactor. Sadly while there are multiple sub critical mass nuclear weapons designs no one has *ever* cracked this problem.

BTW IIRC correctly this guy is mentioned in "Barbarians lead by Bill Gates" by another ex-microsoftie.

Highly entertaining.

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Boffin

Just maybe...

I'm looking for a power supply for my next new rig......

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Nuclear Bill

TWR still produces radioactive waste, doh!. Guess we put the rad film badge next to the picture on the drivers license and swipe through the radiation detector at Heathrow to see if we're clean. "If my mother had wheels she'd be a wagon." ElReg: What, no radiation symbol? When is a nuclear reactor not a nuclear reactor? Answer: When the radiation level falls below .1 mr/hr

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