Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bill Gates' TED Talk. Finally.

So, TED, if these ideas are worth spreading, why did it take more than a week for y'all to post this video to your site?

Anyway, the more I hear about TerraPower, the more fascinating it is. Of course, anything that has to do with nuclear fuel reprocessing is pretty fascinating. The technology to reprocess spent fuel/depleted uranium into fissile forms has been around for a very long time, and is almost as old as nuclear fission itself. You don't have to look farther than the research done at the Idaho National Laboratory since the 1950s to see that these kinds of ideas have been around for a very long time. What's missing, of course, is the political will to carry the ideas out.

I think what some of the opponents of nuclear power don't get is that Gates -- and many others -- aren't looking to nuclear as an end-all to base power production. The advantage nuclear has right now is that it emits zero carbon emissions, which, if you've been reading the papers lately, is a huge concern environmentally. Nuclear waste is in itself an environmental concern, but it is a concern that is much more easily handled than carbon. It's a lot easier to sequester nuclear waste than it is carbon; you don't ahve to look further than the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico to see that.

So we work to reduce carbon emissions now. That buys us some time to get other technologies to the point they're capable of producing the base power we need without fossil fuels or without uranium. Solar and wind are great, folks, and I love to see the windmills above Idaho Falls churning, but the wind isn't constant, and right now the amount of ground you'd have to cover with solar cells to produce power on a massive scale is enormous -- that's a significant cost of solar power that a lot of people ignore as they complain about government loan guarantees and subsidies given to nuclear power.

Here's another suggestion: I'd love to have wind or solar powering my home. Maybe it's not practical on the large scale, but it's entirely feasible on individual scales. I'd like to see work done on decreasing the initial costs of individual solar and wind power stations so that an individual or even a small city could buy and build its own power plant. I've looked into it myself, and right now if I had $12,000 to $18,000 to drop, I could install wind power at my house. If the city allowed it. And if I could afford the initial cost. So let's work to get these renewables down to the individual scale. Nearby Idaho Falls provides nearly half of the power consumed in the city through hydropower; it ought to be feasible for cities to get into wind or solar on smaller scales. That also eliminates the need for transmission lines.

Anyway, I love to hear this kind of speculative talk. I'll be even more excited when it becomes reality.

No comments: