Apparently, while google for example is investing into renewable energy technologies, Bill Gates is betting on rapid innovation in the use of nuclear energy. He has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in nuke companies such as TerraPower to develop a prototype of reactor that doesn’t need refueling in 50 years. Why bother, one could ask, if he thinks that nuclear waste is “tiny” anyhow, as Gates does.
Speaking at WIRED’s third annual conference “Disruptive by Design” Gates told the crowded audience that too much money was being spent in technologies such as LED lights and solar power, calling them economic but ineffective in dealing with the issues of climate change. Basically he said that no amount of clean technologies can reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by 90%, which he reckons is needed deal with climate change. But in reality, dealing with climate change involves mitigation (renewables, efficiency) as well as adaptation where global warming is acknowledged as a fact we will have to live with and solutions in handling new situations are developed. So nobody is saying that those “cute technologies” will stop climate change, but cap our emissions eventually. In reality, there is more to it; the exploitation of renewable resources will enable communities that were at the mercy of oil prices to become more self-efficient and create revenue and jobs locally.
By nature, huge nuclear power plants are operated by large companies, and typically don’t create a great amount of jobs. Honestly, I don’t see how nuclear power will improve the lives of many people in developing countries (which are considered as dumps for nuke waste) or of those in rich nations (health, confidence, and the fear of accidents).
Gates criticised the fact that 90% of subsides goes into traditional forms of energy instead of being channelled in R&D (research and development) needed for technological breakthroughs. I am all with him there, only do I not think we should look for these breakthroughs in the fields of nuclear power but rather for truly sustainable ways of powering our lives.
Considering that a large chunk of GHG emissions doesn’t actually come from burning fossil fuels, but from deforestation and the excessive keeping of livestock, money needs to go into research to improve all factors contributing to climate change as well as to the best ways of how to deal with inevitable changes we face.
In reality, renewable energy, efficiency and adaptation measures are our opportunity to change the world for the better; in fact I think people of the future will come to think of our time as a turning point in human development – for better or worse.