Bill Gates Puts His Money and Mouth Behind Nuclear Power


After the recent disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in northern Japan, just about everybody has expressed some concerns about the state of nuclear power.

The current issue of Rolling Stone features a lengthy story from Jeff Goodell that's pegged to the disaster and is sure to stir up more worry. The piece claims regulators are ignoring the risks posed by the 104 reactors scattered around the United States in order to boost industry profits. "A balding, 40-year-old Democrat with big ears and the air of a brilliant high school physics teacher, [Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory] Jaczko oversees a 4,000-person agency with a budget of $1 billion," Goodell wrote. "But the NRC has long served as little more than a lap dog to the nuclear industry, unwilling to crack down on unsafe reactors."

Lap dog or not, Bill Gates isn't concerned.

Speaking today at the Wired business conference in New York City, Gates, who has invested plenty of money in his friend Nathan Myrhvold's Terrapower, argued that the level of concern we've seen post-Fukushima is an overreaction. "If you compare it to the amount that coal has killed per kilowatt hour," Gates said of nuclear power, "it is way, way less." The problem, Gates believes, is that deaths for which nuclear power plants are deemed responsible are concentrated around specific events and times. "Coal kills fewer people at one time, which is highly preferred by politicians," he said.

To be fair, Gates has put plenty of money into other forms of energy as well. "We should pursue them all," he said, according to TechCrunch, which pointed out that Gates has invested in dozens of energy companies, from solar to biofuels to battery. "The amount of IQ working on energy today and the tools they have to simulate compared to 20 years ago is night and day," Gates told the audience, "but it is unpredictable whether we will get a breakthrough."

While he supports many forms of energy production, Gates dismissed energy ideas that involve individual homes generating their own power and then feeding excess back into a grid. "Not gonna happen," he said. "If you are going for cuteness, go after those things at the home. If you want to solve the energy problems go after the big things in the desert."