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2 Jan, 2019 04:29

Bill Gates' nuclear venture looks for new test partner as regulations nix China collab – report

Bill Gates' nuclear venture looks for new test partner as regulations nix China collab – report

TerraPower, the nuclear energy company founded by Microsoft's Bill Gates, is reportedly looking for a new partner nation to help test its reactor technology as new US regulations bar it from working with China.

The company's existing deal with China National Nuclear Corp to build an experimental nuclear reactor has effectively been nullified by new restrictions imposed in October by the US Department of Energy preventing most nuclear business deals with China. Meanwhile, Gates says, US laws are too "restrictive" to allow the prototype to be built at home, meaning a third country must be found, or US laws changed.

"We're regrouping," TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque told the Wall Street Journal. "Maybe we can find another partner." TerraPower has been working with China on the project, which would have seen a prototype reactor built south of Beijing, for three years.

The new Energy Department regulations don't prohibit all nuclear deals with China, but they do require a solid guarantee that the technology won't be used for unauthorized purposes, specifically military. Energy Secretary Rick Perry claimed at the time that China was not only ramping up efforts to militarize nuclear technology but was also diverting it to other countries.

There are few countries that would be suitable partners for developing a prototype reactor, which costs about $1 billion. The nation would have to already be funding nuclear energy development and have a government amenable to a partnership with a US company. Gates plans to lobby for changes to US regulations that would allow him to build the reactor there.

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"The world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change," he wrote on his website, adding that nuclear power is "the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that's available 24 hours a day" and that the US can only regain its leadership in the nuclear arena if it "commits new funding, updates regulations, and shows investors that it's serious." 

The "traveling-wave reactor" TerraPower hoped to build south of Beijing is fueled by depleted uranium, which is reportedly much cheaper and safer than the enriched uranium which powers typical nuclear plants. Gates' company has been developing the technology for the last decade.

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