- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Green groupies of government who fancy themselves on the leading edge of chic-think for their opposition to nuclear power had better rethink their style. Joining - in fact, leading - the ranks of those who think nuke is cool is none other than the man who defines progressive ideas: superentrepreneur Bill Gates.

Those anti-nuke obstructionists suddenly find themselves looking very 20th century as the co-founder of Microsoft moves ahead with futuristic plans to deliver clean, inexpensive power to an energy-needy world.

The software genius already has remade the planet once by leading the personal computer revolution and helping millions of individuals worldwide create wealth. Now he stands to do so again by backing a next-generation nuclear technology called a traveling-wave reactor.

At a February conference in Long Beach, Calif., Mr. Gates waxed enthusiastically about his plans. “If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years, it’d be to invent the thing that halves the cost of energy with no carbon dioxide. This is the one with the greatest impact,” he told the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, referring to his project.

His wish got a major boost when TerraPower, his start-up company, announced two weeks ago that it is negotiating with Toshiba Corp. to build the microreactors, which could enter production in 2014 if approved for use in the United States. On March 25, Energy Secretary Steven Chu inaugurated a blue-ribbon commission of scientists and policymakers who will spend the next two years discussing a long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel waste.

The need for such a panel is the consequence of nuclear regulatory schemes that have successfully blocked the deployment of a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in the barren desert hills of southern Nevada. There, Americans have poured more than 9 billion of their hard-earned dollars into what was to be an underground repository for spent nuclear fuel. Thirty years of fear-mongering succeeded in impeding progress on the project - and President Obama recently canceled it. As a result, Yucca Mountain has become a monument to government waste: a useless, multibillion-dollar hole in the ground.

Mr. Gates hasn’t become one of the world’s wealthiest men by pouring his cash into risky schemes that go nowhere. He intends to invest big bucks, perhaps billions, in TerraPower’s new approach to nuclear power. These microreactors, which he describes as “supersafe, small and simple,” could operate for 50 to 100 years without refueling. The fuel: spent nuclear waste. Perhaps this is a timely nexus of problem and solution.

So, while the Obama administration’s panel holds forth over what to do with nuclear waste, Mr. Gates moves forward with plans for nuclear energy plants that run on nuclear waste. The contrast between government dithering and the initiative of private enterprise is out in the open for all to see.

The nation’s challenges are many, and few are more daunting than the need for abundant, clean energy. Still, solutions are no less plentiful, as long as the heavy hand of regulation doesn’t obstruct America’s innovators as they unleash the power of human ingenuity.

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