Bill Gates: "We need a [energy] miracle"

Pellet of Plutonium 238 glowing red hot, under its own heat. Public domain image, source Wikimedia.
Pellet of Plutonium 238 glowing red hot, under its own heat. Public domain image, source Wikimedia.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Bill Gates thinks we need a miracle to solve the world’s energy needs, a safe, reliable, non polluting form of energy which could bring electricity to the rural poor of Africa. The odd thing is, such a “miracle” is within our grasp; but nobody seems to be interested.

From Bill Gates’ Annual Letter;

Africa has made extraordinary progress in recent decades. It is one of the fastest-growing regions of the world with modern cities, hundreds of millions of mobile phone users, growing Internet access, and a vibrant middle class.

But as you can see from the areas without lights, that prosperity has not reached everyone. In fact, of the nearly one billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, 7 out of every 10 of them live in the dark, without electricity. The majority of them live in rural areas. You would see the same problem in Asia. In India alone, more than 300 million people don’t have electricity.

If you could zoom into one of those dark areas in that photograph, you might see a scene like this one. This is a student doing her homework by candlelight.

I’m always a little stunned when I see photographs like this. It’s been well over a century since Thomas Edison demonstrated how an incandescent light bulb could turn night into day. (I’m lucky enough to own one of his sketches of how he planned to improve his light bulb. It’s dated 1885.) And yet, there are parts of the world where people are still waiting to enjoy the benefits of his invention.

If I could have just one wish to help the poorest people, it would be to find a cheap, clean source of energy to power our world.

Read more:

Bill Gates is a strange mix. Some of the things he says, his lack of respect for democracy, are very off-putting. But unlike many greens, he is honest with himself and others, that current generation renewables are not a viable replacement for fossil fuels.

How about my claim, that an energy miracle is, or should be, within our grasp?

What if I said it is possible to produce a nuclear battery, which does not emit dangerous radiation, which could be used to build a lightweight, backpack size generator, capable of producing enough continuous electricity, to power a fridge and a few household lights for half a century, without needing a refuel?

How much difference would it make to the world, if such devices could be mass produced, and distributed to poor people who don’t have access to other sources of energy?

There is a nuclear fuel source which fits this description – Plutonium 238.

Plutonium 238 is ridiculously safe. Unlike other isotopes of Plutonium, Pu238 is a prolific alpha emitter, but it emits very little dangerous penetrating radiation. This almost eliminates the need for shielding – a sheet of stainless steel would block all the alpha radiation.

Pu238 is so safe, it used to be used as the core of nuclear pacemakers; people had Plutonium nuclear batteries implanted in their bodies. This procedure was only discontinued, when cheaper, long life chemical batteries became available.

Plutonium 238 is also very energy dense – it emits around half a watt per gram. A kilogram of Plutonium 238 generates 500 watts of energy. With a half life of 87 years, a few kilograms of Pu238 could produce more than enough energy to power a few simple household appliances, for several decades, without needing a refuel.

The big issue with Pu238 is cost, and scarcity – but there is a possible solution. Thorium fuel cycle reactors produce significant quantities of Plutonium 238 as a byproduct. The fuel cycle could likely be designed to optimise Plutonium 238 production.

Clean, cheap, safe Thorium power for rich countries, and an endless supply of nuclear batteries for poor people, to provide them with access to all the modern conveniences we take for granted – internet, refrigeration, electric light.

I hope you read this Bill. If you are looking for an energy miracle, don’t ignore the nuclear option.

Update – David L. Hagen points out that Bill Gates is investing in nuclear power, through his investment in Terrapower.

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February 23, 2016 6:08 pm

I think the problem is that it could be used for dirty bombs.

Eric Gisin
Reply to  Steve Smith
February 23, 2016 8:26 pm

Uranium ore could be used for dirty bombs, but I don’t hear of terrorists buying any from rock collectors.

Michael D
Reply to  Eric Gisin
February 23, 2016 9:45 pm

Well Eric that’s a silly response to a valid comment. If every family in Malawi had a thorium battery, then it would be much easier to build a dirty bomb than it is now. Wrap a suicide vest in thorium and guess what – no sheet of stainless steel to stop the radiation.

Reply to  Eric Gisin
February 23, 2016 10:16 pm

Plutonium is extremely chemically poisonous.

Ernest Bush
Reply to  Eric Gisin
February 24, 2016 7:44 am

Anyone stealing nuclear home power sources to build dirty bombs that are large enough to do widespread damage is going to be leaving a traceable fingerprint that probably be seen from orbit, but defintely can be seen from an aircraft.
As poisonous as plutonium is, there are far worse. Remember you have members of this society bent on spreading huge quantities of lithium all over the United States and elsewhere as a transportation solution. This is not exactly the element you want to be ingesting in any form.
And while we are dreaming, how about a 400 pound plutonium battery to power small cars for urban transportation. Leasing the battery should make this a doable solution.

Reply to  Eric Gisin
February 24, 2016 1:33 pm

Significant damage?
What about Fukushima Daiichi accident? Did it cause significant damage?
(It did kill the business Areva.)

Mike M. (period)
Reply to  Eric Gisin
February 24, 2016 4:55 pm

Plutonium 238 is over 50,000 times as radioactive as uranium. You can calculate that from the inverse ratio of the half-lives.

Reply to  Steve Smith
February 23, 2016 11:20 pm

Very difficult to build with Thorium, you can carry a chuck of it the size of your fist in a pocket and suffer no ill effect.

Reply to  Steve Smith
February 24, 2016 1:08 am

The entire reasoning/argument ignores the elephant in the room:
Fact is that we have had fission based nuclear energy produced in massive quantities for the past 60 years around the world. The Chernobyl meltdown aside [thx to well honed Soviet maintenance protocols… 🙁 ] and the Green hype around Three Mile Island and Fukushima [in both cases nobody got hurt] more energy has been produced by conventional fission at a lower cost in human lives/casualties than with any other form of energy source/ generation method – bar none.
I spend half the year in France which derives 80-85% of its electricity from fission nuclear, a country that developed a fuel “recycling/refining” technology that sees everyday use in the next-gen Phoenix III generating plants. Crucially the country has never witnessed an accident, let alone a fatality.
Anyone who still believes that we have a nuclear waste storage issue has been drinking the Green anti nuclear cool-aid. Long term storage is one of the most clever propaganda straw men ever devised because 95% of all nuclear waste is low level and can be stored without shielding. Only 3% contains high level waste that needs long term safe storage. High level waste of the past 50 years from all operational nuclear plants around the would fit into some 200 Olympic size swimming pools [dimensions: 50m x 25m x 2m = 2500 cubic meters].
If anyone thinks it’s a big problem finding space for that I suggest you book a couple of return flights over Northern Canada or Siberia and watch 6-10 hours of complete emptiness glide by below you.
If you think that’s no good because Green hand waving has it that radiation might somehow seep up from lead vitrified storage pellets in the 2000ft storage shafts drilled into the Northern Shield earth quake free bedrock and hurt the caribou, consider that 35 years ago Swedish/Swiss ABB and French Framatom developed a high level waste encapsulation technology for storage in sub-ducting tectonic plates. It’s not like the folks who developed the technology somehow forgot about waste storage….
World-wide today there are some 400 reactors in operation, 70 new ones are under construction, 180 are being planned and some 500 proposed. Between them, China and India have some 40 under construction, 100 planned and 150 proposed. Even if a good number of the proposed units never saw the light of day, it should be clear beyond discussion that next-gen fission nuclear is alive and kicking – Green propaganda and German lunacy notwithstanding.
And anyone who continues to argue that fission nuclear is too expensive should take a close look at operational life-span cost structures and compare those to the real [not propaganda] costs of solar and wind – if you added in a putative cost of the very negative environmental impacts of wind and solar [birds and bats and desert ecosystems killed off] that the Greens never want to discuss, it could well come out on top.
Nothing beats a reality check.

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 1:15 am


Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 2:59 am

Agreed tetris but liquid thorium flouride reactors are cheaper than uranium because no containment vessel required or cooling pumps as the system is self regulating, at least the design I have seen does not need pumps plus pump backup.

Leo Smith
Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 3:05 am

Fission is here now, it works.
Let’s just work on clearing down the mass of regulations that cause it to be so expensive without materially adding to safety, and start looking at waste disposal sanely, instead of emotionally.
In truth we have no other choice, long term. There is a far larger supply of fissionable material around than fossil fuel (in terms of derivable useful energy) .
Fusion may work, but its still decades away.
AS far as nuclear proliferation goes, well almost everybody with any national ambitions already has nuclear weaponry, and so called ‘dirty bombs’ are more psychological than physically injurious. And a campaign to actually explain how un-dangerous low level radiation really is would soon make them pointless.
What we should try to do is raise public awareness of the real facts surrounding nuclear power, as we have done with climate change.
Debunking climate change buys us decades of fossil fuel we are now not afraid to use, debunking radiation myths will buy us millennia.

Shawn Marshall
Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 4:48 am

A breath of fresh air!

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 5:18 am

Reality is that Next-Gen fission is here now and being built. Thorium, while more “intuitive” in many ways, will take at a decade plus to bring on-line. What’s more, the Next-Gen fission reactors are in a completely different overall safety league than for instance the Fukushima I and Three Mile island technology.

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 5:38 am

The other elephant in the room is of course Gates’ call for s miracle energy source completely overlooks the incontrovertible fact that globally we are up to our collective armpits in natural gas – the cheap, well understood/safe energy source that allows us to neatly tailor electricity output to demand by dialing up or down the gas turbines in power plant.
It is again because many people have been made to swallow the Green cool-aid and been brain washed into believing the climate establishment’s fair tale that man-made CO2 is the main driven of temperatures/climate on earth, that natural gas is held up as a “bad” “polluting” energy source.

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 6:07 am

Most of that high level waste can be reprocessed and used as fuel.

Titan 28
Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 6:36 am

Thanks for this post. Illuminating.

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 9:53 am

“And anyone who continues to argue that fission nuclear is too expensive should take a close look at operational life-span cost structures and compare those to the real [not propaganda] costs of solar and wind…”
Agreed. Here is my comparison…

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 10:40 am

+1. I’d like to read more. Perhaps you’d do a piece for WUWT?

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 10:59 am

But while there is still the opportunity to extract income from fossil fuels there will never be a concerted effort to replace them. Perhaps the green blob are forcing the hand TOWARDS nuclear – I wonder if they’ve considered that?

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 11:44 am

Right on tetris…further; since Barry Commoner people have been fed a lot of xxxx about exposure and dosages from practically everything in the periodic table and derivative compounds. Every news channel reports every event as though it’s the latest in the Andromeda Strain or China syndrome. It has infected everything. Cancer deaths are reported as tobacco related if the deceased EVER used tobacco no matter how long they have been tobacco free. It’s nutso!

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 12:37 pm


george e. smith
Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 12:42 pm

Why are you trying to hide 2500 cubic meters of nuclear fuel ?? Put it in a reactor and use it.

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 1:54 pm

Actually, France has witness two minor NPP accidents:
– at Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux reactor 1 (CO2-cooled graphite-moderated uranium) in 1969: 47 kg of uranium melted, INES 4
– at Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux reactor 2: lack of cooling, 20 kg of uranium melted (high burnup fuel), INES 4comment image
Some plutonium have been washed in the Saint-Laurent river (estimates: 700 MBq).
As for the nuclear power fatalities:
– a few people burned by steam in a nuclear submarine
– one person burned by melted metal when opening an oven in a recycling facility for low radiation waste
– some people killed by rocks in the Bure long term waste storage facility (last accident: 2016-1-26)
– some construction accidents

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 2:02 pm

“And a campaign to actually explain how un-dangerous low level radiation really is would soon make them pointless.”
You can explain stuff all day long, but please see the reception of the words of Pierre Pellerin: he has been accused of saying “the cloud (of Chernobyl) stopped at the frontier (of France)”; actually he just said that people in France had no need to worry about nuclear radiations from Chernobyl.
It’s difficult to go against the alleged “common sense” of the media establishment.

michael hart
Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 2:17 pm

+more, tetris

Reply to  tetris
February 24, 2016 4:14 pm

one of the green problems with Fukushima is that the constant protests cause power companies to not build newer safer reactors and instead, try to extend the life of older reactors which are not as safe. Fukushima reactors should have been shut down years ago – if we actually built a modern reactor, we know how to create them so they won’t meld down without coolant. Without the greens, there wouldn’t have been a nuke disaster in Fukushima.

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  tetris
February 25, 2016 8:51 am

The fundamental issue with present-generation nuclear power stations is the use of volatile or inflammable materials in the core. Those are, paradoxically, much more of a hazard than the nuclear reaction itself.
The reason EDF’s Hinkley proposal is so expensive is the need for numerous safety add-ons surrounding a system which itself has inherently poor safety. The cheaper and safer approach is to avoid those features which make the reactor unsafe in the first place. Pressurised water coolant and zirconium (flashbulb metal!) fuel cladding being the two major issues.

Reply to  Ian Macdonald
February 25, 2016 8:56 am

Planes have poor safety.
Boats have poor safety.
Oil rigs have poor safety.
(and they actually kill people and also create environnemental disasters)
But you don’t see them with a “regulation agency” trying to make the them uneconomical.
(And don’t get me started on the historical safety record of some big dams – including in civilized countries. That’s a killer.)

Reply to  tetris
February 26, 2016 10:21 pm

BTW, the common statement that nuclear waste must be contained for 20k years or so is bogus on 2 counts. First off, low level waste need not decay much to be a non-issue, and high level waste by definition is decaying very fast.
Which interacts with point 2. Note the end point. If stated at all, it is stated as decay to “background” levels. BUT the stuff didn’t start at background, it started at uranium ore levels. The goal post is set artificially far. Set the goal as “decay to U ore levels” and the “waste” is back to that in about 250 years.
So just backfilling a U mine and cement plug, in about 2275 A D it is as safe as before the U was mined…
Though personally I vote for using the high reactive stuff for fuel, it is nice to know that storage is really very easy if you don’t have to improve on nature and can accept natural U ore levels as the goal.

Peter Miller
Reply to  Steve Smith
February 24, 2016 3:38 am

The big problem is a chemical called plutonium citrate, possibly the most poisonous known chemical and potentially a crazy terrorist’s delight.
And there are a lot of those around – the widespread practice amongst most of today’s terrorists of marrying first cousins only adding to the problem.

Reply to  Steve Smith
February 24, 2016 6:05 am

Being an alpha emitter, it wouldn’t be a very effective dirty bomb.

george e. smith
Reply to  MarkW
February 24, 2016 12:47 pm

So how many alpha emitters are there that don’t emit gammas while they are at it ??

Gentle Tramp
Reply to  MarkW
February 24, 2016 12:59 pm

Quite wrong: Incorporation and the following internal radiation means a much higher risk for cancer than external radiation – that’s the real threat of a dirty bomb or any other radioactive fallout…
And since alpha emitter have a higher biological impact when incorporated, they are more dangerous than gamma and beta emitters in dirty bombs or radio-toxic poisons (see my first answer below).

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  MarkW
February 25, 2016 8:53 am

It would if it were pulverised and you breathe the dust in. In that case, very toxic.

george e. smith
Reply to  Steve Smith
February 24, 2016 8:58 am

Well it so happens that I spent at least a half hour and it might have been an hour just yesterday afternoon watching Bill Gates as a guest on the Charlie Rose Program. I never watch Charlie Rose; can’t stand his interview style, or most of the persons he interviews, but as I clicked through that station, there was Bill Gates talking about CAGW and global warming and how we had to solve it now.
So Bill is waving his hands about gesticulating, as if he is conducting a symphony orchestra. Very distracting to watch; you see people walking down the street talking to themselves , and waving their finger toys about as if their contact in another galaxy, can actually see their fidgeting.
For the record, I’m very happy for Bill and Melinda Gates, and I don’t begrudge them a brass razoo. It’s wonderful that he got so filthy rich by making Micro$oft.
So this was the first time, I have watched him give a sermon, on everything that ails the world in his view, and how to fix it. He would not answer a direct question as to whether Apple should uncrypt the iphone that the San Bernardino police screwed up, by trying to change the password on it
But bottom line, on Bill Gates. Yes he’s a very successful filthy rich Philanthropist; but other than that he’s a high school dropout.
No the term ‘ high school dropout ‘ carries no negative vibrations baggage for me. it simply describes someone, who did not continue a formal education in the basics, beyond a minimum learning level.
You can’t ever make up for that lack of needed foundation. Being rich in midlife does not mean you can catch back up to the pack.
So Bill understands software, and a lot about business, but he doesn’t have a solid science background of understanding, which is why he signs on to the CAGW mantra.
He did tell Charlie Rose that he has read the Feynman Lectures books, and that it is the ultimate in Physics text books. But his knowledge of Feynman is limited to watching him tell a congressional committee his opinion, of how the Challenger rocket blew up because its O-rings were cold.
Gates is sold on renewable energy (me too), but he doesn’t seem to be putting too much of his own money into it.
He thinks in 40 years artificial intelligence computers will be way more intelligent than humans.
If they are, they likely will sterilize this planet, and eradicate humans and most other animals.
Mother Gaia, has not yet demonstrated that ‘ intelligence ‘ conveys any better survival likelihood. Intelligent machines will find that they can’t either.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 24, 2016 9:54 am

Gates was a college dropout. He graduated high school, and enrolled at Harvard, but did not finish.

george e. smith
Reply to  george e. smith
February 24, 2016 12:50 pm

OOoops !
Thanx Bartemis for correcting that.
Sorry Bill, my misteak.
He still doesn’t know much about CAMMGWCC.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 24, 2016 1:20 pm

I lost my awe of Gates when I beheld the woman he chose to marry. Huh? !*$&#%

Gentle Tramp
Reply to  Steve Smith
February 24, 2016 12:48 pm

Pu-238 is – as a strong alpha particle emitter – much more radio-toxic than U-238 if incorporated because of its much shorter half-life and the high biological impact of alphas within the human body.
Bad people could easily open the battery encasement, disolve the Pu-238 metall in hydrochloric acid and use the Pu-238 chloride very effectively in all forms of radio-toxic poisons or dirty bombs.
You could e.g. poison great amounts of drinking water with very little Pu-238 chloride…

Keith Willshaw
Reply to  Gentle Tramp
February 25, 2016 1:41 am

You could poison even more with readily available heavy metals such as arsenic or alkaloids such as nicotine let alone the botulinus toxin. Radioactive isotopes are by definition dangerous to handle and rather easy to detect so its hardly an effective weapon. In any event there are thousands of barely controlled medical radioisotopes in the third world. The accidental inclusion of cobalt 60 from a Mexican clinic into steel comes to mind.

February 23, 2016 6:09 pm

An article about dim bulbs and Bill Gates – coincidence?

Reply to  dp
February 23, 2016 9:11 pm

LMAO. Good one!
At totally ruthless and successful businessman but definitely NOT a tech visionary as he is pitched by his followers.

Reply to  dp
February 23, 2016 11:47 pm

Like Bill Gates, Edison was a totally ruthless and successful businessman; he didn’t invent the incandescent light bulb (that was James Bowman Lindsey. 1835 Dundee, Scotland), Edison bought the 1874 Woodwood & Evans Canadian patent in 1879, which was what Edison successfully marketed.
Although Edison held 1,093 patents they were all the work of others, he used to go & meet the immigrant ships, choose the brightest scientific minds (eg Tesla), employ them at minimum wage & patent all the good ideas as his own.

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  1saveenergy
February 25, 2016 9:29 am

The ‘inventors hall of fame’ is a manifestation of why mass education has such a damaging effect on the dissemination of knowledge. Teachers want to have ‘soundbites’ that can be preached-at their charges, to then be parroted in exams. Thus, that institution tends to bend the historical truth a little, then eventually a lot, in order to pin the medal on a single individual rather than having to explain the more fragmented real-world process of innovation. Which, would not in any case make for a good exam question.
Strictly speaking, the lightbulbs devised by Swan and Edison were not the modern variety anyway, because they used very dim and inefficient carbon filaments. The tungsten filament was developed in the early 20thC, and again it is difficult to say who developed it first.

Reply to  dp
February 24, 2016 4:33 am

+++++ 😉 lol

Reply to  dp
February 24, 2016 8:22 am

Bill Gates was a better salesman then Steve Jobs. Steve had the better technical & forward looking vision.
Bill’s crowning achievement was selling Windows to IBM’s upper management in their panic to counter Apple, & get into the PC market. Middle & lower level managers were ignored, because everybody knew Big Blue had the smartest exec’s around.
Fortunately, for IBM, someone had the foresight to hire outsider Lou Gerstner from biscuit maker Nabisco

Reply to  J_Bob
February 24, 2016 8:55 am

Gates didn’t sell Windows to IBM, it was DOS – and of course the genius was that he said MS would not give IBM the rights to the BIOS, which meant MS could sell DOS to other PC makers later on. He initially told IBM that MS did not make operating systems, only development tools. He then told IBM to talk to CPM, which did have an OS. When CPM and IBM could not agree on a deal, they want back to Gates, and he saw an opportunity. Just a smart guy who seized an opportunity.

george e. smith
Reply to  J_Bob
February 24, 2016 12:52 pm

Steve Jobs had The Woz !

george e. smith
Reply to  J_Bob
February 24, 2016 12:54 pm

The very best version of Windows was M$ DOS 3.2

February 23, 2016 6:13 pm

Oh Knock it off!
We have as mush cheap non-polluting energy as we are allowed to have.
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) could provide extremely cheap energy and as a byproduct masses of fresh water and other desirables.
That these reactors have not been made is a testament to the power of crony politics.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Joe
February 23, 2016 7:11 pm

Such chatter around the web about LFTR, but no LFTR… why is that?

Harry Buttle
Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 23, 2016 7:44 pm

Largely because Admiral Rickover killed them off because he wanted conventional reactors to power his submarines and now “Nuclear” is taboo, try getting finance to start a company to develop nuclear power.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 23, 2016 9:12 pm

See China. They moved their dates up from a 25-30 year project to a 10-12 year one. They’ll have one online before 2025 (IMHO). Then we and the rest of the world can buy them from China as they mass produce them.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 24, 2016 3:46 am

Because like any other ‘it could work’ technology, there’s a huge and expensive development program with many potential unknowns springing out on the way to commercial viability.
Back in 1930 if we had had the Internet no doubt we would have been saying ‘why aren’t we building jet engines’ .
Its often the details that totally kill a technology, or put it in abeyance for years. With access to a suitable power source, aircraft could have been built as far back as they 16th century.
Fusion power still lacks the ability to properly contain the plasma. Maybe massive processing power and human built feedback will succeed in doing what a primitive tokamak cannot.
Contrariwise, the Laser appeared years before we knew how much we were going to need it.
Where we go with technology is utterly dependent on what else is around us. Frank Whittle had to experiment and push materials technology way ahead to get his jet turbine built. Initial attempts to purify uranium to weapons grade or even reactor grade were huge engineering projects. Now we HAVE reactors and tons of shorter half life materials lying around, building breeders is not so hard if we need more e.g. plutonium.
The point is no given technology exists in isolation, and the one you tend to use is the one for which you already have the support infrastructure, and right now that’s boring old one pass uranium or MOX reactors.
They are good enough, and the development work is done, and we have the reprocessing plants.
The far larger problem is public perception of nuclear energy, and the over- regulation it has spawned.
Once again I will post a quote from the late Prof Cohen:
I have met the government officials who chose the billion-dollar plan, and have discussed these questions with them. They are intelligent people trying to do their jobs well. But they don’t view saving lives as the relevant question. In their view, their jobs are to respond to public concern and political pressures. A few irrational zealots in the Buffalo area stirred up the public there with the cry “We want that dangerous waste out of our area.” Why should any local people oppose them? Their congressional representatives took that message to Washington — what would they have to gain by doing otherwise? The DOE officials responded to that pressure by asking for the billion-dollar program. It wasn’t hurting them; in fact, having a new billion-dollar program to administer is a feather in their caps. Congress was told that a billion dollars was needed to discharge the government’s responsibility in protecting the public from this dangerous waste — how could it fail to respond?
This illustrates the human process by which enormous sums of public money are spent wrongly, simply because the people who are tasked with the spending of it are not driven by rational cost-benefit analysis, but by public perception of risk, no matter how far that is removed from reality.
Politicians have no incentive to educate people into the inconvenient truths, and every incentive to go along with whatever convenient lies are currently fashionable, if they want to keep their jobs. And what this means is that money spent on marketing BS and lobbying government has a high rate of return. CF Global Warming etc. Which is not an inconvenient truth, but a very convenient and profitable lie, if you can get enough people to believe in it.
And that gentlemen , the crux of the whole matter: There is no incentive anywhere for people in politics to tell the truth. Only what people want to hear.
Once, when politics was the province of wealthy men – landowners responsible for thousands of tenants, there was. They at least could say with some degree of honesty that what was good for the average person would be good for them, and, secure in their private means, they could resist political pressure to go along with what they did not believe in. Today’s Big State, where all politicians are sackable employees, reduces their scope of accountability from the nation at large to their own families, paycheques and careers.
Private wealth is seen by many as an obscenity, but private wealth is what protects its owner from pressure to go along with the crowd. Bill Gates the philanthropist has probably done quite a lot of good, supporting some projects that achieved something, and not too much harm in others that employed people who in the end achieved nothing.
Maybe someone should ask him for 50 billion dollar cheque to build a nuclear power and desalination plant in California.
Sorry to ramble on, but I really wanted to make the point that whilst we think of nuclear power as a technical issue, largely it isn’t. Its a human social political and economic issue, and right down at the bottom an ideological issue.
Fix those, and nuclear of whatever flavour,. will flourish.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 24, 2016 6:56 am

Leo Smith

… and right down at the bottom an ideological issue.

Good comment, so what is the underlying ideological issue?
It seems to have got lost somewhere along the line.

James Francisco
Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 24, 2016 7:17 am

I have a suspicion that some of the scientists and others with influence are on the global warming bandwagon in the hope that the opposition to nuclear power will greatly deminish.

george e. smith
Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 24, 2016 12:59 pm

Well actually Leo, fusion power still lacks the ability to provide any power. Doesn’t really matter if they can’t contain the plasma, if it can’t provide any output power.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 25, 2016 4:27 am

Such chatter around the web about LFTR, but no LFTR… why is that?

Harry Buttle (not Tuttle!)’s comment that it was Admiral Rickover is right on target.
See my little piece on that subject here: Rickover fact check. Warning: severe tire damage You can also romp through my other energy and LFTR-flavored commentary if you wish
Think of me as the Trix Rabbit of Thorium.

Reply to  Joe
February 23, 2016 9:08 pm

(I’m lucky enough to own one of his sketches of how he planned to improve his light bulb. It’s dated 1885.) And yet, there are parts of the world where people are still waiting to enjoy the benefits of his invention.

Yet another example of outrageous disingenuity from Gates. He is so ironical that it would be impossible for a sane person to knowingly make such pronouncements. He would know very well that innovation is not the whole picture, particularly as regards the light bulb. Built in obsolence is the real picture ‘illuminated’ by the story of the manufacture of the light bulb. He can’t have forgotten that planned obsolescence is a central strategy of his own industry where the ‘product life cycle’ of hardware and software are artificially limited.
If he has Edison’s sketch it is hard to imagine that he is such a poor student of history that he would not know the ‘industry allegory’ of the light bulb; the symbol for innovation and its threat to business!
Here is an innovative suggestion Bill! How about making and sending ship loads of long lasting light bulbs to the third world instead of containers of obsolete computers from the first.
Planned Obsolescence Documentary
Centennial Light
Where your computer goes to die

Reply to  Joe
February 23, 2016 9:50 pm

Read up a little more on LFTR. The reactor part is pretty safe. Its trouble comes from the continuous chemical reprocessing of the core. Next to LFTR reactor will be the equivalent of a small smelter, hermetically sealed to keep oxygen away from the liquid metal salts and highly radioactive fission products.
It isn’t the physics. It isn’t the crony capitalism. It isn’t Rickover wanting Pu. It is the nightmare of operating that high-temp highly radioactive chemical refinery on the site of one or more LFTR reactors.
For my money, this dual zone core in the TAP reactor is more likely to be the profitable route to a Thorium design because it uses two different neutron energy spectra to best deal with the poisons.

To achieve the high burnup in a compact reactor size, we have configured the TAP reactor in
two zones. The moderator at 50% volume is provided in one zone, where it achieves the highly efficient moderation and actinide breakdown behavior described in Figure 8. The second zone is free of moderator. Here the spectrum is primarily epithermal (see the unmoderated line in Figure 8). Recall that the LiF-UF4 salt dissolves 27% molar mass uranium (mostly U-238) – a far higher uranium level than is considered in the design of thorium molten salt reactors – so there is copious fertile material available. In the unmoderated region, fission neutrons accumulate in the epithermal energy range, where they are preferentially absorbed by U-238, which has large cross-section resonances at epithermal energies. Upon capturing a neutron, fertile U-238 nuclei are transmuted into fissile nuclei. This epithermal transmutation raises the conversion ratio of the combined regions above that of moderated region alone. (Sec. 2.6.1, pg 24, of

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
February 24, 2016 11:17 am

What you say is true for any of the liquid fuel (Th/U/Pu) salt reactors with continuous neutron poison removal / chemical cleaning / fuel recycling – but is really just a good Chemical Engineering project that needs no new discoveries and has no real barriers (physics/engineering/material science -wise, not speaking politics here) to implementation. I’m all for trying several designs – may the most cost effective clean machine win!

Jimmy Haigh
February 23, 2016 6:14 pm

Personally I’d rather freeze than depend on energy from Plutonium-238 ” glowing red hot under its own heat”. It’s not very nice stuff.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 24, 2016 3:54 am

Actually sprinkled on your cornflakes, its probably still OK.
Its a poisonous heavy metal sure, but we have lots of those around us that we manage not to poison ourselves with.
Remember there was a huge pressure from Agitprop funded by the Eastern bloc to raise a cliamte of fear about all things nuclear, because in a democracy, as I explain elsewhere, what drives policy is not facts, but peoples fears.
Plutonium was like the rest of the nuclear program, deliberately demonised and the ‘useful idiots’ – third rate scientists and so on who saw easy money and fame jumping on scare bandwagons, were only to happy to go along…sound familiar?

Marcus ( unmelted )
Reply to  Jimmy Haigh
February 23, 2016 6:22 pm

..” Plutonium-238 ” glowing red hot under its own heat”. It’s not very nice stuff. ” ??
Do you really believe Pace Makers ” glowed red hot ” ?? LOL

Jimmy Haigh
Reply to  Marcus ( unmelted )
February 23, 2016 7:29 pm

It’s all about the quantity. And the shape…

Reply to  Jimmy Haigh
February 24, 2016 9:36 am

Jimmy, it’s hot ’cause that’s a pretty big piece. Smaller pieces will be less hot. Still, more heat and you get a more efficient thermocouple-type electric generator.

Brant Ra
February 23, 2016 6:15 pm

He doesn’t know whats on the market. For the cost of one failed Green Company we can have higher density power source..
Lugano Test, 2014
On October 8th, 2014, a team of European academics released a report of their testing of an E-Cat device supplied to them by Industrial Heat, LLC which took place at Lugano, Switzerland. The report can be read in full at the following link:

Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 24, 2016 1:16 am

“That is not my understanding of how you measure heat produced by a reaction. Heat is measured by sealing the reaction inside a heavily insulated container, with a quantity of water with a thermometer stuck in the water. ”
To which the authors have responed:
“The choice of instruments was warranted both by the straightforwardness of the experimental setup and the precision of the instruments themselves. Designing a calorimetric measurement by means of a cooling fluid would have been more complex, especially in the light of the high temperatures reached by the E-Cat.”

Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 24, 2016 7:00 am

Interestingly enough, the MFMP (an open science group) have very recently claimed a strong replication of the E-Cat and published the recipe. The reaction start is signaled by a burst of 100 keV-range gammas.

Reply to  Brant Ra
February 23, 2016 8:40 pm

Moderator, please delete cold fusion trash.
[Your comment is noted. .mod]

Reply to  hunter
February 24, 2016 6:50 am
Reply to  hunter
February 24, 2016 11:27 am

Of course there are never any new discoveries. Physics was fixed after you left school.
That Industrial Heat have now completed a one year trial this month of their 1 MW LENR plant that supplied steam to a real customer must be an illusion. They are backed by $59 million dollars from idiots.
Or maybe don’t, if you want to keep on thinking you know it all.

Michael 2
Reply to  Brant Ra
February 24, 2016 9:19 am


Ian Macdonald
Reply to  Brant Ra
February 25, 2016 9:42 am

To fully fund ITER, the world’s largest and most expensive fusion project, it would only be necessary to halt global expenditure on windturbines for a few days. Sounds preposterous but that is the disparity in funding. When you look at it like that, it’s no surprise that we don’t have fusion but we do have every hillside covered in turbines that are uneconomic to operate without continuing subsidies.

February 23, 2016 6:16 pm

The Green movement often acts as if it is an outgrowth of the old anti-nuke movement, or at least incorporated many of the anit-nuke shibboleths. Witness the behavior of the Greens in Germany. The Greens would freak.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Tom Halla
February 24, 2016 12:13 am

The Green movement is an outgrowth of the old anti-nuke movement!

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 6:14 am

Which in turn was a child of the soviet agi-prop.

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 11:21 am

…and still has the goal of putting sand in the gears by forcing the price of energy (the life-blood of modern life and capitalism) ever higher.

February 23, 2016 6:16 pm

I’ve always thought that Gates isn’t the brightest guy in the world, far from it. (No real evidence of this – just an observation). But, rather, a “visionary” and great marketeer with brilliant people around him (and extremely fortunate – as I understand it the preferred folks (name escapes me) blew IBM off). Explains a lot about the man.

Reply to  ECK
February 23, 2016 7:22 pm

CP/M. Digital Research, Inc. Knuckleheads. What could have been but sadly not. Bill and Co saluted the flag, but never did figure out how to make int21 re-entrant, and we live with the legacy even to this day.

Reply to  ECK
February 23, 2016 8:02 pm

Morrow, with his C/PM. My first computer was a Morrow, nice little machine, cost me $3000 with dot-matrix printer thrown in. Sadly, Morrow was killed in a bar fight in Milpitas, CA.

Donna K. Becker
Reply to  Paul767
February 24, 2016 9:26 am

When was this?

Marcus ( unmelted )
February 23, 2016 6:17 pm

..Hey Bill, I bet you could supply a lot of energy for them Africans if you cough up some of your billions !

george e. smith
Reply to  Marcus ( unmelted )
February 24, 2016 1:09 pm

Careful now, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are doing quite a lot in Africa. So they are coughing up some of their billions. I do NOT question his philanthropy.

February 23, 2016 6:20 pm

Bill Gates, you are a techie!! Do your homework! CO2 Global Warming Climate Change is not happening. It is not a crisis! The looming Deadly cold IS a crisis, and all energy sources will be necessary to produce food and prevent death by cold, especially for the poor. Verify this by going to

Proud Skeptic
February 23, 2016 6:22 pm

It is my understanding that PU 238 is what has been used to power deep space probes. There is so little left that it is carefully rationed.

Reply to  Proud Skeptic
February 23, 2016 8:59 pm

@ Proud Sceptic, 6:22 pm Feb 23, Aren’t the Americans ( and no doubt a few other countries) using current breeders to continue making PU 238?

Tsk Tsk
February 23, 2016 6:30 pm

Or we could just build reactors in these countries… As a heavy metal Pu is chemically toxic regardless of its radiotoxicity.

David L. Hagen
February 23, 2016 6:30 pm

Bill Gates is already investing heavily in such potential energy breakthroughs. See his TED Talk and his investment in TerraPower

TerraPower’s Generation IV traveling wave reactor (TWR) offers a safe and economic form of low-carbon energy that meets base load demand for electricity.

See DOE Grant to Southern/TerraPower

David L. Hagen
Reply to  David L. Hagen
February 23, 2016 6:38 pm
February 23, 2016 6:33 pm

In the short term – and Africa needs lots of cheap energy right now – coal is the cheapest and easiest by far. Pity Obama and the World Bank blocked all coal back in 2013 The World Bank had a bit of a re-think in 2014 I don’t know where they are all up to now, but they have certainly wasted valuable time.

Reply to  Mike Jonas
February 23, 2016 7:24 pm

They are getting the money from China now. From the POV of the developing world America and Europe are pretty much inconsequential, nobody cares what they think. 😉

Reply to  Mike Jonas
February 23, 2016 8:09 pm

Mike Jonas
Very precise and correct in the assessment. Just as was the case for China, rural people living in subsistence will flock to urban centers once adequate power, clean water, sanitation, medical services, etc., etc., etc. are provided. But these all start with large quantities of reliable electrical power. The people of Africa need this today and not tomorrow. (How ya gonna keep em down on the farm once they’ve seen Paree!)
It is absolutely criminal that the West is blocking financing for critical infrastructure (i.e., coal power plants) to lift sub-Sahara Africa out of subsistence, abandoning menial chores to enjoy the fullness of being human.

Reply to  Robert
February 24, 2016 7:12 am

Oh, like most people in the West. Chained in economic slavery to their bank. Working all the hours they can to buy expendable crap with built-in obsolescence so they need to go back to work tomorrow.
The fullness of being human, to be sure.

Reply to  Robert
February 24, 2016 8:58 am

Mike February 24, 2016 at 7:12 am
Oh, like most people in the West. Chained in economic slavery to their bank. Working all the hours they can to buy expendable crap with built-in obsolescence so they need to go back to work tomorrow.
The fullness of being human, to be sure.

So is it more fulfilling to scrabble in the ground all day for meagre crops, weave your own clothes and wash them in creeks, sit in wattle-and-daub huts breathing in the smoke from dung fires, die young from respiratory infections and water polluted with excrement? Me, I’d rather have good plumbing, electric lights, modern medicine, and the option to buy whatever “expendable crap” I want, including the books and Internet blogs I have the leisure time to read.
/Mr Lynn

February 23, 2016 6:45 pm

A scheme in Peru to provide 500,000 rural homes with solar power is a similar farce. The people of Peru and Africa do not need a feeble reading lamp – they need fossil fuel generation right damn now to get health, refrigeration, industry, and a modicum of modernity into their lives. These token acts are building then crushing dreams. (going on now since at least 2001)
How many Africans and Peruvians must die in the dark before we start rounding up the greens that are imposing a paleo existance on them?

Reply to  dp
February 23, 2016 8:11 pm

Hear, hear!

Don K
Reply to  dp
February 23, 2016 8:56 pm

Ah come on. A feeble reading lamp — probably an LED — and a radio or TV powered by an old car battery charged from a solar panel is a huge improvement over no reading lamp or radio at all. It took the US and Japan and Europe (and the 20th Century Communists although no one wants to give them credit for anything) to build electric grids that reached a large percentage of their populations. It’s going to take a long time for national grids to reach everyone in the third world. In the meantime, small scale solar is better than nothing. Why not fossil fuels? They’re probably better in most cases. But they are costly and the significant percentage of humanity that is not on the power grids does not, for the most part, have a lot of cash. And in too many cases their governments are more of a liability than an asset. Here a list of countries and electrical access.
And before we get too smug, look at American Samoa (59.3%) and Puerto Rico (90.9%).

Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 12:38 am

Moron – the difference is in the old days people were trying to move forward. The greens are trying to move backward. Krickey, read, will you? This is not a trivial effort at suppressing modernization. It is a zealotry lead effort to suppress modernity because it is deemed best for Gaia.

Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 12:42 am

If I were a giraffe I would be worried about electricity grids strung out over Africa.

Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 12:46 am

Doesn’t seem to hinder American bison.

Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 6:17 am

Giraffes have longer necks.

george e. smith
Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 1:18 pm

Lester C. Hogan, while head of Motorola talked the Chinese into cell phone technology, instead of stringing our old telephone wire junk all over their huge area.
likewise, it is entirely appropriate, to provide small African communities with high efficiency LED lighting; rather than have them waste precious resources on obsolete incandescent and fluorescent lighting. They can use that power wastage savings to get refrigeration for food storage and other more desperate things like medical equipment.

george e. smith
Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 1:21 pm

Well it might have been Bob Galvin, and not Hogan. But it definitely was Motorola.

Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 2:46 pm

Why do you consider an led reading lamp to be a civilisational improvement?
Man has been using oil lamps for thousands of years, powered very heaply with animal fat. And they have been using hurricane lampd for hundreds of years, powered by whale and rock oils. And very good an efficient they were too. So why is flooding the Third World with technology they cannot afford or repair, to produce a feeble glow, an improvement on animal fat or rock oil?

george e. smith
Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 4:47 pm

February 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm
Why do you consider an led reading lamp to be a civilisational improvement? …..”””””
Well actually oil lamps are anything but efficient. And whale oil has not been available on the market for decades.
If you are going to provide compact local PV solar electricity to remote African villages so they can have modern medical care for example, you don’t want to be wasting electricity on inefficient lighting. If you want your brain surgery done under whale oil lamps, don’t impose your choice on others.
LED solid state lighting is the only form of commercially available lighting that is so efficient that its products must conform to international laser safety standards.
And I said nothing about civilization; simply efficient use of resources where modern resources are scarce.

Reply to  Don K
February 26, 2016 11:06 pm

LED lamps are far from feeble. I’ve got a couple that match a 100 W incandescent light output.
Unfortunately, they spike at 440 nm then down convert with phosphors. This leaks a lot of blue that causes insomnia…
A gas lantern is really a kW heater that gives you 100 W of incandescent light for free and can be replaced with a 10 W LED bulb. Far better to use that kW of fuel to generate electricity for 100 hours of LED than that one hour in the lantern .. unless you need the heat.
Pretty much any campground today sparkles with blue LED for just that reason. I run an LED in a reflective socket from a dinky inverter in the car to provide lots of light anywhere…

Reply to  dp
February 23, 2016 10:59 pm

“How many Africans and Peruvians must die in the dark before we start rounding up the greens that are imposing a paleo existance on them?”
you’re seriously asking?
all of them because if one african or peruvian child can read at night, the sacrifice of all your money is worth it
because you aren’t going to do anything but whine about why somebody else won’t do what you won’t do and because nobody is going to be rounding up anybody.
you are not your brother’s keeper – that’s called slavery
you are an agonist whining for the love of whining- how do we know this? because any day you can be found doing that – it’s not accidental or innocent. you’re a crybaby, sensitive, 21st century guy- shallow to the bone.
if you want to exhort people- how about this: zort yourself – in private, please- and in silence.

Reply to  gnomish
February 24, 2016 12:54 am

Ok – that was weird. Do you not realize the value of tokenism vs the value of real progress? Maybe a mental picture can help. It is the difference between living in a modern American city and living on a modern American Indian tribal reservation. Two worlds separated by a common dream and common need and no common resources.

Michael 2
Reply to  gnomish
February 24, 2016 9:31 am

gnomish, showing how hypocrisy is to be properly done, writes:
“if one african or peruvian child can read at night, the sacrifice of all your money is worth it”
Obviously you have not sacrificed all of your money. You seem to have a computer. So maybe it wasn’t actually “worth it”.
“because you aren’t going to do anything but whine about why somebody else won’t do what you won’t do and because nobody is going to be rounding up anybody.”
While that didn’t exactly make sense, you have not declared what you have done to help peruvian children to read at night.
“you are not your brother’s keeper – that’s called slavery”
I call it “brother’s keeper” and it speaks to assisting my brother. The phrase comes from the story of Cain and Abel, and they were apparently actual biological brothers.

Reply to  gnomish
February 24, 2016 1:05 pm

“And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”

Reply to  gnomish
February 24, 2016 11:16 pm

michael- i’m not going to do without the cream in my coffee for any peruvian or african child.
more importantly – you can’t make me.
and most importantly – you have no right to try.
also, avoid satire – you’ll get ulcers from your histrionics.
(yeah- i bet that went over your head, too, eh?)
so there ya go, you valiant social justice warriors- you’ll have to swallow your own ballistic colostrum.

Reply to  dp
February 24, 2016 8:17 am

“We” aren’t gonna do anything for them. But if they ever get themselves into a position of strength, the hatred this modern colonialism breeds will come out. In many ways the old style colonialism was better for them. Keeping modernity from an entire continent the way we are doing it in Africa today is beyond criminal – the West has a religion that demands strict energy austerity, but since we are unable to deny ourselves much of anything we force the poor nations to do our penance for us. Africa suffers because America and Europe sinned. Sort of like buying indulgences, except the payment is the suffering of millions of innocents. You just have to see a woman in a hut, cooking thin gruel in a stove fuelled by nothing more than actual bullshit, no chimney on the hut and her baby sucking on her teat in that smoky room once. Apparently Gates has been in that room many times, and all he can do is make speeches and investments, then coming home to his palace and feeling bad for the poor people – on a schedule.

Reply to  dp
February 24, 2016 9:01 am

The issue in Africa is distribution, which most people are unaware of or ignore. It’s a massive continent with a still quite rural population. Centralized large power plants do not solve the issue of power distribution.

george e. smith
Reply to  Chris
February 24, 2016 1:24 pm

And Tsetse flies that prohibit ordinary domestic cattle for example.

February 23, 2016 6:51 pm

Africa is also missing out on geothermal in spite of some very promising fields.

Steven F
Reply to  Pat Ch
February 23, 2016 7:16 pm

Kenya has about 700mw of geotheramal and is building more. However most countries in africa don’t have arift valley to support large scale geothermal power. Moraco has completed the first of 4 solar therma plants with molten salt storage. Allong with wind and other renewables moraco is expecting 40% of all electricity will be produced from renewables by 2020.

Reply to  Steven F
February 23, 2016 7:38 pm

Considering that the country only generates 6.6 Gigawatts this isn’t hard. While this is expected to climb to 20 Gigawatts by 2020, Hydro already accounts for 20% of the power mix. People keep thinking of renewables as wind and solar, they forget the honking big dams. 😉 The other point is that dams provide water for agriculture, drinking and sanitation, wind and solar give none of these. (I’m a big hydro fan. )

Grey Lensman
Reply to  Steven F
February 23, 2016 10:39 pm

Most countries dont have oil or coal. Your point is “give up”?

Don K
Reply to  Pat Ch
February 23, 2016 9:11 pm

It’s not just Africa. The US could probably do a lot better with grid-scale geothermal than it does. The US actually generates more grid-scale electrical geothermal power than any other country although the percentage of total US power from geothermal is only 0.3%

Sad Lassie
Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 2:51 am

Sadly, John B, hydro doesn’t produce 20% of world energy, it’s much less. And by the standards of nuclear, it is hellishly dangerous. Just one incident in Italy in 1963 killed 2000+ people, which represents 50x as many as Chernobyl. I think the figure is more like 300 fatalities per annum, whereas Chernobyl divided by 60 comes to less than 1 (nuclear has been around since 1956). Nuclear typically generates the 20% or so you mentioned and hydro more like 8%, so using a further multiplier of 2.5, then nuclear is something like 1000x safer than hydro. The rest is green excrement.
I’m NOT a fan of hydro!

Leo Smith
Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 4:09 am

Worst ever hydro death toll was Banqiao. Maybe quarter of a million dead.
Makes Chernobyl look like a picnic.
IN my lifetime I can think of many many major death tolls. Aberfan (coal) Bhopal (doixin IIRC) Banqiaou (hydro) Japanese tsunami (natural) 911 (oil funded terrorism?)
Not to mention wars of one sort or another.
Contrast nuclear power where the official death toll is less than 100.
Even organic beansprouts have killed nearly as many people as nuclear power
If those beansprouts had been irradiated as is done with many vegetables in supermarkets, those deaths would not have occurred..;-)

David A
Reply to  Don K
February 24, 2016 8:35 am

John’s point still stands. Hydro provides water and irrigation. In addition it has prevented many floods as well in a developed system of reservoirs and provides an effective means of sustaining the water table. And of course there is value in lakes and fish stock and decades of economic structure built around reservoirs. Not all are advisable (Hetch-hetchy) could and should have been built elsewhere) of well engineered. But they have many benefits besides power generation.

James Schrumpf
February 23, 2016 6:53 pm

Seems like Africa has a lot of wide open spaces. Why not build French-design (or US Navy design) reactors way out in the middle of nowhere and grid the power in to where it’s needed?

Reply to  James Schrumpf
February 24, 2016 12:39 am

Transmission losses.
The longer the supply lines, the more power gets lost along the way due to resistance in the cabling.

Harry Passfield
Reply to  Felflames
February 24, 2016 2:02 am

Not just transmission losses. Cable losses are a big problem in some countries.

Leo Smith
Reply to  James Schrumpf
February 24, 2016 4:12 am

No cooling.
Transmission costs a bomb
Politically unstable
So not viable. Best place to build em is northern temperate coast, like Britain,Finland, Norway and the like. Bags of cold water, politically stable, near demand centres, technically sophisticated work force.
Technically illiterate electorate is the main problem.

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 4:50 am

“Technically illiterate electorate is the main problem.”
& Technically illiterate politicians.

Robert Wykoff
February 23, 2016 6:57 pm

If a byproduct of Thorium with (90 protons) is plutonium (94 protons), does that not imply fusion which I thought we could not sustain yet?

Frederick Michael
Reply to  Robert Wykoff
February 23, 2016 10:37 pm

Beta radiation is the emission of an electron from the nucleus, converting a neutron into a proton.

Steven F
February 23, 2016 6:58 pm

The US government restarted production of PU238 for NASA space probe use. The first 50 grams of it cost 15 Million. PU 238 cannot compete on price when compared to batteries recharged with solar or wind. This production also relies on Neptunium 237 produced as a byproduct of nuclear weapons productions right after WWII. Currently none of the production equipment and nuclear reactors used to make the Neptunium exists. It has all been scrapped or permanently shut down.
Its the same story for tritium a radio active form of hydrogen that also safely produce energy. It is used commercially and cost $30,000 per gram and you would probably need a kilogram to produce any significant amount of power. Current production is only 400grams per year.

Reply to  Steven F
February 23, 2016 7:46 pm

In shocking news, things made in tiny quantities cost a lot.
I once worked for a chip company. If you bought the chips from us when we were mass producing them, they would typically cost around $20. If you came back five years later and asked for more, and we had to do a special run of one or two wafers through the fab to make them for you, they’d cost $2,000.

February 23, 2016 7:02 pm

True greens don’t want anything like cheap affordable electric power because it will improve the lives of billions and that is billions extreme green would rather not see at all .
When your heat and light comes from cow dung (when you can get it ) a nuclear plant has far less risk than sucking in particulate from fires while you cook insect soup .
Why not ask the people that have to scratch out a living each day what they want and screw what the people wearing green masks think living in their cosy homes, flying around defacing other countries treasures in their MC gear .
Bill Gates is right but he isn’t singing from the same song sheet as the extreme green industry who
goose step around with furrowed brows trashing nuclear and harbouring a desire for mass population
reductions .
They are hypocrites and a bad joke . Nobody is buying computers if they can’t operate them and food is just a tiny bit more important .
When the leaders of the extreme green crowd start living in clay huts and make their steak and lobster from cow dung fires we will see how long before they start singing a different tune . Don’t hold your breath .

Don Perry
Reply to  Amber
February 24, 2016 4:35 am

“steak and lobster ”
More likely tofu and soy milk; animals are worshiped and cried over; people can go to the devil.

Peter Sable
February 23, 2016 7:05 pm

So, how good of a dirty bomb does PU-238 make?
Powdered, it’s probably pretty nasty. Probably shouldn’t ship these to third world countries.

Gentle Tramp
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 24, 2016 1:41 pm

Not really: There are vaccines available against Anthrax, but there is no comparable protection against strong incorporated radio-toxins…

February 23, 2016 7:06 pm

Alpha emitters can have all sorts of potential applications.
Especially in the field of creating cheap radioactive “dirty bombs” and poisoning inconvenient dissidents.
I can see no possible problem with providing everyone on planet earth with easy access to such materials…

February 23, 2016 7:18 pm

Of for gosh sakes. Look into the “dark places” on earth and you’ll find the exact same thing in every one of them. A corrupt, dysfunctional government. No new technology is going to fix that. And if you did fix that, you wouldn’t NEED a new technology, the ones we have already solve the problem all over the world.

Reply to  davidmhoffer
February 24, 2016 5:14 am

Exactly. The problems are not technological. The last thing emerging territories need is to be used as Guinea pigs for new technologies.

Reply to  davidmhoffer
February 24, 2016 7:05 am

Corrupt, dysfunctional governments run nearly the whole world. The centralization of power in government, thus in the hands of people whose skills resemble expert lying, explains virtually all problems. Without government and taxes and regulation and litigation inventors would create solutions in years, not centuries.
Government is the enemy of the citizen. A big, rich, powerful government has always led to a small, poor, weak citizenry. From Pharoes to Obama the story has remained the same.

Jimmy Haigh
February 23, 2016 7:30 pm

We already have an energy miracle: Hydrocarbons.

Reply to  Jimmy Haigh
February 23, 2016 9:01 pm

Mr Gates says those are killing the earth.
Hydrocarbons are bad.
They are dirty and you would the earth when you extract them from her.
Are you a hydrocarbon pusher ?
You must live in one of those carbon dioxide dens of iniquity.
You are selfish.
No more hydrocarbons for you.
By Order of the High Priest of the Royal Order of Carbonites

February 23, 2016 7:43 pm

Imagine somebody in a white coat announces they have discovered the cure for brain cancer . At the press conference and amid much celebration the last investigative reporter on the planet summons her courage and asks .. How do you know you have found the cure for brain cancer Dr. White Coat ? Dr. White Coat
looks earnestly at the crowd and tells them he has constructed a model that tells him so . A model you say ??? Yes yes and a very fine model it is too . I am quite certain of about 10% of the variables
and the other 90% of the variables are uncertain but I have estimated those .
The room empties and that is exactly what should happen with the failed scary global warming hypothesis .

February 23, 2016 7:54 pm

As an engineer in the nuclear power industry for close to 40 years I can say that the folks who blithely talk about ‘next generation nuclear technologies’ (e.g., traveling wave, molten salt, or even small modular) as the ‘solution’ to clean, sustainable energy have never worked in nuclear power and certainly have never tried to license even an existing technology, let alone a new technology.
From 1943 to 1963 was the golden age of nuclear power research will lots of government $$$ and very little government constraint. It seemed that every conceivable rector type and form factor was designed, built, and operated in short order.
Today is the polar opposite. Just to license a new light water reactor fuel type with minor design changes is estimated to take more than one billion dollars and more than a decade. To license a new technology would take two decades. I can’t image an operating prototype before 2036. Commercial rollout would require another couple of decades to ramp up to even a relatively small contribution.
We have light water technology which is a known quantity and can contribute. Discussion of new technologies in the context of ‘cheap energy’ is just a distraction. (And don’t even bother commenting on the (non-)problem with high level waste).

Leo Smith
Reply to  Robert
February 24, 2016 4:14 am

Just to license a new light water reactor fuel type with minor design changes is estimated to take more than one billion dollars and more than a decade. To license a new technology would take two decades.
As I said, not technical issues, human social ideological and economic issues.

February 23, 2016 7:58 pm

All those in favor of dense energy sources step to the right.
Wind Farm/Solar and Tidal power fans step to the left.
Ten minutes later…
…NO! you stepped to left, you can stay there with the yurt and bicycle powered washing machine,
i’m going into orbit now, check back on you in a millennium.

Reply to  zenrebok
February 24, 2016 9:18 am

Well said, zenrebok! Sums it up nicely.
/Mr Lynn

Don Shaw
February 23, 2016 7:58 pm

One would think that a person who is so “smart” would have the intelligence to realize or at least admit that we would be living in the same poverty and the dark just like those in Africa still live were it not for our intelligence to apply fossil fuels in our society and develop the many amenities we currently enjoy including light, transportation, plenty of food, etc. Does he realize the many benefits of CO-2 for increased agricultural
production. Also is he so ignorant of the numerous research dollars spent over the years by industry and governments to develop alternative energy sources to fossil fuels. If he had a clue of history and understood Physics and thermodynamics he would not be expecting a miracle an time soon. Is everybody that have worked diligently in the energy business toward these goals so much stupider than him?
Think about it all the money he made would be impossible without fossil fuels.
Bill should watch these video’s on the history channel to see how a few great men changed our lives and had more impact than anyone in history:

David Ball
February 23, 2016 8:06 pm

Jimmy Haigh February 23, 2016 at 7:30 pm says;
“We already have an energy miracle: Hydrocarbons”.
How do you open the eyes of those who are blind to this?

Reply to  David Ball
February 24, 2016 6:26 am

I’m tempted to say “with a really big stick”, but in reality, I don’t know.

Michael Carter
February 23, 2016 8:21 pm

Surely we now have the engineering nous to make nuclear reasonably safe. The problem with idealists is that they cannot accept that every venture has a degree of risk and negative impact, yet they are willing to drive their cars in 100 km/hr traffic. Nuclear is clearly the answer. It makes sense to reduce hydrocarbon dependency IMO

Reply to  Michael Carter
February 24, 2016 6:42 am

I remember one Green I debated years ago who proclaimed that he had a right to be safe. Not relatively safe, but absolutely safe.

February 23, 2016 8:24 pm

Contrary to general belief, work on Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) technology is proceeding apace – just not (mainly) in the US. First Chinese commercial results are likely (if present plans are successful) in the 15-20 year range, with major Indian efforts ‘really getting going’ at around 40 years.
China are undertaking a “crash” development program with a command target time to operation of 10 years (which they have essentially zero chance of meeting).
India have a much slower development program, not because they are putting in less effort but because they plan a multi-stage breeder process which will greatly increase the energy they ultimately can extract from their Thorium reserves.
India has the world’s largest proven Thorium reserves (largely all along their East coast beaches). China’s method will be faster to get going but a far less energy efficient use of Thorium. Both Uranium and Thorium are finite natural resources – far more so than is generally appreciated. US development of LFTR is proceeding privately, with funding an issue.

Leo Smith
Reply to  russellmcmahon
February 24, 2016 4:17 am

Be careful to distinguish between LFTR and thorium used as a fuel in a conventional (fast) breeder.
The main advantage of thorium is that it hasn’t (yet) become a dirty word, like uranium and plutonium, in the minds of the great unwashed.
LFTR is not a magic solution, its just another reactor (JAR).

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 5:44 am

Leo – India is managing the ‘worst of both worlds’ :-). They are producing a 3 stage breeding chain to greatly expand the amount of Thorium available and using it in LFTRs as the end product. Building the infrastructure.
Excellent description of their program here:

Richard G.
February 23, 2016 8:35 pm

Bill Gates is an incoherent Statist. All hail the State. From an interview:
“Baer: Can billionaires save us in this situation?
Gates: Billionaires should never be responsible for solving problems, because they’re not the government.
The government is there day in and day out, if you want all kids to have education, if you want to run courts, if you want to have an army, if you want to have roads, you’ve got to have the taxation system that funds everything that you expect.
The only role other than paying their taxes, whatever those are, the only role for philanthropy broadly — of which the rich should give disproportionately — the more, the better — and I think there is a positive trend in that direction — there are certain risk-taking things, like trying out a new type of charter school or funding a new kind of medicine. The government’s ability to select scientists and pick things that are fairly strange, because politicians don’t like failures. They’re only in office a short term, and many of these things take a long time.”…

Reply to  Richard G.
February 23, 2016 9:18 pm

I think a big problem with politicians is that they are in office for too long a period of time, and their constituents sheepishly re-elect them. The politicians want to keep their jobs more than do their jobs, and take campaign contributions from moneyed special interests such as corporations, unions, and the prison and education industries.

February 23, 2016 8:40 pm

““We need a [energy] miracle””
We have had MORE than one ENERGY MIRACLE for the last century at least.
These can be grouped under the heading FOSSIL FUELS.
Not only have they been DECISIVE in the development of the Western world, but they also produce the one thing the planet DESPERATELY NEEDS MORE OF…….

February 23, 2016 8:42 pm

I’m going to post this again.. because I can.
Use it on badges, make a sign from it for your car back window.
Free for ALL to use.

Reply to  AndyG55
February 24, 2016 12:13 pm

Thanks Andy, will do & will also pass it on.

Gentle Tramp
Reply to  AndyG55
February 24, 2016 1:19 pm

Thank you! I like it.
Quite simple but very true indeed!
We must surely finish this stupid vilification of Natures own “GAS OF LIFE” !
Let’s start the Carbon Liberation Party and International CarLib brotherhood… 🙂
(Or shall we call it “THE CARBONIST PARTY” and write a carbonist manifesto 😉

February 23, 2016 9:03 pm

From “Applied Strength of Materials” – 1978
The term steel refers to alloys of iron and carbon and, in many cases, other elements. Because of the large number of steels available, they will be classified in this section as plain carbon steels, alloy steels, stainless steels, high strength steels and structural steels.

Carbon is given such a prominent place in the allow designation because, in general, as carbon content increases, the strength and hardness of the steel also increases. Carbon content usually ranges from a low of 0.1 percent to 1.0 percent.

The mechanical properties of plain carbon steels are sensitive to the manner in which they are formed and to heat-treating processes.

Stainless Steel:
Stainless steels get their name because of their corrosion resistance. The primary alloying element in stainless steels is chromium, being present at about 17 percent in most alloys. A minimum of 10 percent chromium is used, and it may range as high as 27 percent.
– – – – – –
I think Iron is the proper word to use if all we are talking about is the shielding properties and not about structural strength and other properties.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  garymount
February 23, 2016 9:09 pm

Yes I have used 1.0% carbon steel to make tools like cold chisels and other tools needing to be hardened and tempered. Other tools can be case-hardended like screw drivers simply by heating them to the required temperature and then sticking them in a pot of carbon paste for a minute or two.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 23, 2016 9:40 pm

A sodium cyanide bath is good, too, if you don’t lick your fingers.

george e. smith
Reply to  garymount
February 25, 2016 7:44 am

The Carbon-Iron Binary Alloy phase diagram, may be far and away the most complex binary phase diagram that there is. It can be found in Books Like ‘ The Composition of Binary Alloys ‘ which is a two volume set that contains the phase diagram and other important information about almost every ‘ alloy ‘ of two elements that exists.
Quite naturally, you won’t find the Kr-Pb binary phase diagram in there, but other things you will. I believe the simplest binary alloy phase diagram is Ag-Au, which are totally soluble in each other from 0% Ag to 0% Au There’s a liquidus, and a solidus joining the melting points of the two components, and that is it; nothing at all happens in between.
But the C-Fe phase diagram is insane. There are probably some other transition metal alloy diagrams that are very complex as well. You get all kinds of binary compounds formed under various physical conditions at various Temperatures and compositions.
Iron by itself is primarily good for making rust out of.

Robert Bateman
February 23, 2016 9:08 pm

Even if it is pulled off, the Global Corporations will make very certain that the cheap energy is monopolized, and it will be cheap only for the producers. The price will be hiked up astronomically for the end users.
Profits uber alles.

Reply to  Robert Bateman
February 23, 2016 10:37 pm

I don’t know, I find my energy to be quite the bargain these days.
Was 5-10 years ago for a winter I paid almost 5 times as much for Nat gas as I do now.

Don Shaw
Reply to  micro6500
February 24, 2016 6:32 am

micro.. good point. I love the logic of those who fail to realize there is no monopoly in the energy business, must have grown up with the mis-conception along with Bernie that the oil companies bought up all the patents on the 100 mpg Carburetor.

Reply to  micro6500
February 24, 2016 6:48 am

Don, and if you ask them, these same people will declare that we need a large Omni-present govt to protect us from these evil corporations.
Irony is completely lost on them.

Reply to  Robert Bateman
February 24, 2016 6:47 am

Why do you believe energy is unique.
If corporations are able to set the price of what they sell to whatever they like, why aren’t eggs $10 each?
Why is the price of gas currently falling.
In reality, corporations aren’t the evil boogeymen that your pathetic imagination makes them out to be. In reality that role is occupied by govt.

Reply to  Robert Bateman
February 24, 2016 8:06 am

Robert: Taxes cost Americans more than 40% of their incomes. Gloal Corporations are angels by comparison. Current energy costs can run 50% taxes in some areas because Government mandates paying solar and wind for unusable, well, not really energy since it is unused, but potential energy. Blame the guilty. Let Obama demonize those who provide your wants and needs.

February 23, 2016 9:14 pm

Regretfully, Sub Saharan Africa suffers from so many ills created by social, cultural and religious backwardness that believing cheap, ubiquitous energy would be more than a silver lining on a very dark cloud is outrageously optimistic. Many of the states there have great wealth in natural resources that does nothing but foment disruption and massacre committed to accrue them for the strongest tribes and their leaders.

Reply to  John
February 24, 2016 3:02 am

Exactly! And if the superpowers would stop [pruned] them over for a dollar… Take the Sudan* for example, torn literally in two in the fight over it by China and the US and yet, if you are still capable of individual thought in this ‘iIdiocracy’ we all live in, you might question the notion that Bill Gates is saving Africa.
*South Sudan, “Africa’s newest country”

February 23, 2016 9:37 pm

It seems to me that Bill Gates is just another one of the many problems faced by the world’s poorest:

February 23, 2016 10:02 pm

When someone like Gates adds a gratuitous aside like ” (I’m lucky enough to own one of his sketches of how he planned to improve his light bulb. It’s dated 1885.)”, it is a reminder of just how strong the need is in humans for ego assertion at even the most banal level.
Bill thinks that we will interpret his bragging about his wealth as disarming humility; he’s not “rich”
enough to own an esteemed object, he’s “lucky” enough!
Oh yes, we needed to be told that he’s the proud possessor of a rare sketch and we especially appreciate learning that as he tells us of the many millions of people that don’t have electricity.
He’s not stupid and he knows that nobody likes a braggart and he knows that his art collection is not relevant to African poverty but he just can’t help himself. Even in a written piece that he could go back and edit.

Reply to  mebbe
February 23, 2016 11:32 pm

Exactamundo! You can take the boy out of the prep school but you can’t take the prep school out of the boy. He just can’t help himself.
Don’t personally dislike the man, but his quest to ‘save the world’ is a little over the top at times.

Martin A
Reply to  mebbe
February 24, 2016 12:06 am

mebbe ++

February 23, 2016 10:08 pm
Reply to  ratuma
February 23, 2016 10:17 pm

what about General Electric and Morgan bank ?

February 23, 2016 11:30 pm

The reason much of Africa has no electricity is because of corrupt rulers like Robert Mugabe, who has trashed the thriving economy that was Rhodesia and is now basket-case Zimbabwe.

John Moore.
Reply to  Phillip Bratby
February 24, 2016 2:29 am

Yes, and when anyone criticises him, all the other ‘Presidents’ who are robbing their countris back him up. Africa will not progress until this changes, but don’t see it on the horizon — the only time Africa had anything like civilization was when the British Empire ran a lot of it. The other countries’ empires there were a little too corrupt.

Reply to  John Moore.
February 24, 2016 4:05 am

“The other countries’ empires there were a little too corrupt.”
Come off it, credit where credits due, we Brits can be as good at corruption as anyone else, & we can be vicious with it read ‘The Great Hedge of India’ that killed 1,000s.
We also perfected the concentration camp in the Boer War.

February 23, 2016 11:33 pm

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, coupled with Buffett, does a power of good…but they don’t stop at doing good.
I’m quite happy if the Foundation invests massively in Coke and McDonalds and Exxon (and in Buffett, who invests in…Coke and McDonalds etc !). A complicated structure and solid stocks is how it’s done in business, I’m sure. I’m not even complaining about eg the trialling of drugs away from regulated national bases, since faster product development is likely to save more than it kills (though I guess it kills). The fact that a lot of this “given” money makes its way back in various ways to the tax-sheltered foundation does not disturb me too much. I like capitalism, even when it’s a touch too tricky.
The problem is that the Gates/Buffett arrangement is becoming something of a new form of government. And it’s government where you don’t get to have elections or revolutions, and where the illusion of complete benevolence can tend to a Dear Leader cult. If you are a struggling Guardian are you going to say no to investment by such a respectable entity as the Foundation. How friendly will you then need to be toward the Foundation?
Let’s be a touch critical for a moment, while avoiding envy and leftist shrieking:
They are interested in “access”? Ask Bill if he has a scheme to put Linux on the world’s ageing computers so that they run just fine for billions of people for most needs. What could be easier and cheaper, right? Whoops. Wrong question.
Ask Buffett why it’s okay to cart oil by rail but not by pipeline. Isn’t a pipeline better “access”? Whoops. Wrong question to the owner of the railroad!
In other words, these guys are like they used to be, and need watching. Don’t want to put ’em down, by the way. I have enormous admiration for both, even though I know they play with a very hard ball. The problem is that in some very critical areas they are no brighter than you or I…yet their power in those areas is vast.
Bill and Warren buying into the climate/energy wars with mega-bribes may be a very good thing. But it may not be such a good thing. It may mean the prize goes to the “hot” or invested-in tech, rather than the truly new idea. We’ve seen lots of billions go into clunky old “alternatives” that were no secret to medieval millers – to the inevitable medieval effect. And we’ve seen lots of gas and diesel sold as “bridging” to this vague green nowhere. (Now I wonder who invests in gas these days?)
Maybe the answer isn’t a rich Bill Gates in 2016. Maybe we need Bill Gates and Steve Jobs hungry, ruthless, angry and horny, circa 1976, working on new energy. Meanwhile, dig and burn the coal God gave us. Merkel does. She’s even still hooked up to nukes.

February 23, 2016 11:44 pm

Chemically, Pu is no more or less toxic than any heavy metal. Tiny amounts in the environment would not be any problem for this reason. It does however, have potential as a dirty nuclear weapon.
While alpha radiation is harmless as long as it is outside your body, if an alpha emitter is ingested and becomes directly embedded in soft tissue, tiny amounts will almost certainly cause cancer.
Although a lump of Pu under your pillow would be harmless, if ground up and distributed as an inhalable fine particulate in a populated area, the potential danger – and the resulting panic – would be catastrophic.

February 24, 2016 12:05 am

What’s really required for Africa to improve its dismal economic condition is to abandon its failed Socialistic/Statist forms of government and replace it with limited government and free-market economic principles.
No developed country really wants to risk investing in Africa with the risk that some African despot will confiscate their company in the future or have to suffer through frustrating red-tape to build a business or to pay HUGE taxes and bribes to do business in Africa.
Mauritius has the fastest growing economy in Africa, which was accomplished by it abandoning its government controlled economy and adopting free-market principles.
Mauritius is now ranked 8th in the world in economic freedom (higher than the US, which is now ranked 11th in the world after 7 years of Obama) which why it has become the model for other African countries to follow.
I’m not so sure providing plutonium 238 reactors is the way to go here…
Just fix the socio-economic systems and investment money will flood into Africa.

February 24, 2016 12:06 am

Nuke batteries while an interesting concept the cost would be huge, with no clear way of reducing that cost. Bog standard batters are still too expensive 😀
As says KenW on the Alpha ingestion, this is how it dose damage, when inside the body, it destroys you in a short few years, maybe 6 or 7 years, then you die. That’s a one of ingestion, consistent ingestion would kill you a lot sooner.
Given how we deal with waste as is, this would be a monumental disaster, that’s without considering the more extreme uses for such devices.
Also, given how we manage waste.. as a global society, those things would end up everywhere and cancers would skyrocket, as if they are not already prevalent enough.
African communities without power could use trompe, which creates compressed air via gravity and water and air, you can cool fridges with this air, drive cars and run power tools, anything that is mechanical can be designed to run on compressed air.
That is a very reachable goal for energy in African communities in the very short term, and working with such mechanics is something locals can learn themselves and sustain quite easily

Martin A
February 24, 2016 12:08 am

Africa’s real problem is endemic corruption.

Reply to  Martin A
February 24, 2016 12:13 am

Actually much of it’s first world corporations and governments propping up these cretins or actually putting them in power so they can continue to pillage the continent.
Europeans taught Africa how to be corrupt through the colonial years 🙂
Liberia has diamonds and people eat dogs, if they are lucky.

Reply to  Mark
February 24, 2016 9:31 am

Mark– I did business in Africa for 6 years….
You have absolutely NO idea what you’re talking about..
The level of government corruption, political/social instability, sectarian violence, crime, poverty, government mismanagement, cronyism, etc., etc., etc., is absolutely atrocious in Africa.
This silly Leftist knee-jerk reaction to always blame Western businessmen for all of Africa’s problems is insulting to Africans who have to survive through these hardships every day of their lives…

February 24, 2016 12:10 am

Also worth considering in Africa is Thermal Expansion power. Compression and steam created by expanding metal. There is a prototype being built in the UK. unlike direct solar, pressure can be stored and used at night time.

February 24, 2016 12:19 am

The World Bank had Ethiopia did most of it’s agriculture for more profit based export stuff to pay back loans, then famine hit. An example of how the first world causes problems.
Folks need to take the Trompe seriously. All of the bits and bobs relating to this source of energy was bought up by the oil industry in the early 1900s.
If you can compress air and keep it very cold without using much energy at all, that is a valid option worth looking into

Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 12:24 am

A few facts on plutonium
Oh?sorry…you prefer dramatic scaremongering?
I’ll get my coat…

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 12:40 am

Only one way to find out, you inhale a load of plutonium dust and give us a call in a decade, if you are OK, we will consider it 😀

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 1:36 am

He completely destroys his credibility with the utter nonsense in his Ch3

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 24, 2016 3:34 am

Leo, the cited book considers plutonium as a controlled substance in a nuclear fuel cycle, not as an ubiquitous material available at your village market.
You are of course correct that the fear of plutonium planted by the anti-nuke scaremongers is completely irrational. Even if they had access to it, terrorists could more easily kill people with sticks – it is the panic that would do the damage.

February 24, 2016 12:28 am

The ultimate energy source: The Stellarator.

Reply to  Tony
February 24, 2016 12:43 am

That looks nice and cheap, to build operate and maintain 😉
Simple yet brilliant Trompe, concerning African communities, and transport and such, refrigeration, power tools and many other applications, you can drive a car 100s of miles on a couple of litres of compressed air.

February 24, 2016 1:48 am

This from a man who can’t integrate windows 8.1 with windows 10. He will blow the planet up/

February 24, 2016 2:16 am

This is my favourite fusion strategy:
Focus Fusion is in a fairly advanced state of research. The concept has been proven to work, but they are a small outfit and hit snags like their tungsten cathode having cracks that needed to be repaired, or oxidization on the surface of causing impurities and loss of efficiency, which slow down the development. It’s not the actual physics or engineering half the time, just unanticipated complications.

Reply to  agnostic2015
February 24, 2016 5:09 pm

mine too, agnostic. Gates should throw them the few millions they’d need to bring it to commercialization. Dr. Lerner points out that what they’re working through simply takes time – vast sums of money won’t particularly speed the processes., but on the other hand what would be pocket change at the Tokamak would enable the research team to concentrate on the task at hand.
Beautiful stuff = working with the natural instabilities of plasma…their story is illustrative of the evils of power, money, egos, etc, in science. Were it not for this, it would be in use today

Reply to  Tiburon
February 25, 2016 10:47 am

“Dr. Lerner points out that what they’re working through simply takes time – vast sums of money won’t particularly speed the processes.,”
Yeah he says that but don’t necessarily believe it. There are lots of ways that parts of the project could be developed in parallel….it took ages to get the tungsten cathode sorted out, but they should be trying with one, they should be trying with lots of other types of cathode design. For example, they had to develop a coating for the cathode to stop it oxidising. The reason they need to use tungsten is because they need a material that is resistant to very intense X-ray bursts.
Incidentally, Dr Lerner pointed out that the process they use is (hugely) scaled down version of a natural phenomena – quasars. I also love that a large portion of the energy can be recaptured by the cathode which acts as an inductor. But the thing I love about it most is all the boxes it ticks;
– it’s simple
– it would be relatively cheap to construct and operate
– it captures the energy simply (induction)
– it is aneutronic.
– it is scalable (within the limits of the materials).
– it is in a very mature stage of development. They have plans to build the first commercial scale unit underway. Undoubtedly there will be snags but gee – it’s looking pretty good so far.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 25, 2016 10:49 am

That’s a good idea Eric. I might just do that. That would be interesting and fun to have a go at.

February 24, 2016 3:34 am

mod, mods, moderator is there anybody out there? I wrote the word [pruned]
[We saw, we sawed, its pruned. .mod]

February 24, 2016 4:27 am

Ok so we can provide cheap nuclear reactors/coal plants/gas plants. These all produce one thing – that is heat. Now convert your 10kW of heat into 3kW of electricity in a hot dry climate. The only sensible way of going from het to electricity is via steam and turbines. These are not 100% recyclers of water.
Please explain where the water comes from.
Thermoelectricks? No you still need a cold junction – how are you going to cool it. Water maybe?
Who is going to tend the turbines,
Who is going to pay for the infrastructure to distribute the power.
Who is going to pay for the police required to protect the infrastructure.
Local power is the answer. 60Wh is all that is required to provide light in one house.
30W/hours is probably enough for one laptop for one day.
One recyclable battery, a couple of 250w solar panels would be enough for 20 or more dwellings.
which is more preferable and more affordable?

Walt D.
Reply to  sergeiMK
February 24, 2016 4:35 am

” The only sensible way of going from het to electricity is via steam and turbines. These are not 100% recyclers of water.”
Sergei: Look up Braydon Cycle. This works on the same principle as a jet engine. The heat exchange heats compressed air that drives a turbine.

Walt D.
February 24, 2016 4:51 am

If the malinvestment of subsidizing renewable energy, running into the trillions of dollars, was redirected to try to make fusion rectors, we might solve the energy problem for good.
A word of caution though. Freeman Dyson is of the opinion that the reason we do not already have fusion reactors in that governments have backed the wrong technological approaches. This is always the problem when governments try to pick winners, or fall prey to aggressive lobbying.

February 24, 2016 5:16 am

To the moderator maybe.
If find it sad to see.
That hunters have not glimed.
That E-catX and P&F crouch waiting.

February 24, 2016 5:40 am

Yes, Thorium is the answer. We are out of Plutonium 238, used in space probes. The end product of Thorium based power is PU238. Let us have a Manhattan sized Thorium Nuclear power for electricity generation Here are: Eleven reasons to switch to Thorium based Nuclear Power generation.
and:Nuclear power and earthquakes. How to make it safer and better
and: Nuclear Power. Why we chose Uranium over Thorium and ended up in this mess. Time to clean up.

February 24, 2016 6:01 am

Africa… where the mass of the $2-a-day humans live. Where corruptocracies rule. Where foreign NGO’s go to steal everything. Where all that foreign aid gets laundered back to the countries it came from. Where US and IMF-backed strong men ensure no economic development so foreign multinationals can remove all the natural resources for “the West”.
Building power plants? Who will pay for them? Who will build them? Who maintain and operate them? Who will even be able to buy the product? Most of them can barely afford food, much less an electric bill.
Private business will see no profit from investment in African energy, so it will have to come from the governments, even though everyone will scream “socialism!”. But the governments are composed of thieves who steal everything that’s worth stealing.
Africa does need a miracle.

Reply to  AndyJ
February 24, 2016 7:36 am

Come on, Andy, it’s just an appeal to pity. It used to be, “We must do it for the children.” Now, it’s “We must do it for the world’s poorest people.” Beyond being neocolonialist, it’s wildly impractical, as you note.
Now, if you challenge Eric Worrell’s fantastical thorium dream, you have “contempt for the world’s poorest people.”

February 24, 2016 6:21 am

And when will it become economic to start drilling for Geothermal heat/energy?

February 24, 2016 6:27 am

The cost of utility scale solar (not rooftop scale) continues to fall and the speed to construct them expressed in BOS costs is rapidly falling too. They are at the point of completing nuclear plant scale projects before the real nukes complete their design and permit phase. And the cost over runs of nuclear (and nextgen clean coal) would fund another equivalent half nuclear plant project to boot. If DOE and NREL wanted to do something useful for society, they could do a better job tracking costs of utility scale projects of different types for better information flow to consumers, regulators, and utility providers. The cost over run game has gone too far.

Keith Willshaw
February 24, 2016 6:33 am

Dear Readers
Pu238 is NOT a nuclear fuel it is a radioactive isotope of plutonium used in Radio Isotope Themal Generators. Essentially the heat from the radioactive decay provides the power by using a thermocouple. Pu238 is produced by the neutron irradiation of americium or neptunium in a reactor. Yields are small and production is expensive. Worse still no new supply of Pu238 gas been produced for over a decade and stocks for current usage, mainly deep space missions, are dangerously low.
RTG’s are LOW power devices, the largest Pu238 device produced less than 150 watts. This is perhaps the dumbest idea Bill Gates ever came up with, a million dollar device that can power a couple of light bulbs isn’t going to solve the power problems of Africa.
There is a source of clean renewable power in Africa in the form of hydroelectric power. Africa has 12% of potential global hydro power but only produces 7% of that potential as actual power, most of this in southern Africa, The Greens of course resolutely oppose ALL hydro power developments but the biggest problem is political. The combination of endemic corruption and political instability is the major problem preventing its usage as the power consumers are often in different countries than the consumers and there is no power grid in place to handle this.

Titan 28
February 24, 2016 6:42 am

Gates has his good side, and his pest side. He waxes on about the progress of Africa. What progress? He appears to notice the teeming millions, but ignores the impact: Africa is simply drowning in people. Electricity might be a help, sure. Birth control would be even better. Africa’s problems, politically, economically, culturally, are insuperable. It’s long past time we in the west got hold of this truth.

David A
Reply to  Titan 28
February 24, 2016 9:02 am

“Electricity might be a help, sure. Birth control would be even better.”
Many studies make a convincing case that the two go hand in hand.

February 24, 2016 6:46 am

Molten salt reactors are the miracle energy source and are right around the corner. Check out to see exactly why this is the most efficient, safest and without need for mining uranium for a very long time – it burns nuckear waste, eliminating that problem as well.

February 24, 2016 6:52 am

Greens will ignore all viable energy sources because they don’t want cheap clean energy for the world. They want the human population decimated. We are the dangerous, invasive organism that must be irradiated. The more honest among them even use that phrasing.

February 24, 2016 7:17 am

We can stop sanctifying Bill Gates. His Foundation is not and never will be about him giving away his billions. It is a tax shelter. His money resides within the foundation and is invested in stocks and other fiscal instruments. It earns income. If he “donates” a small percentage of the annual earnings, he gets to pay no taxes on the rest.
If he is donating vaccines to third world countries, it is to benefit a pharmaceutical company that his foundation is invested in. If he is pushing battery technology, you can bet dollars to donuts that he is invested in a battery company.
This man built a lifelong reputation of not giving anything to anyone, including charities. It makes no sense that he would now give it all away.

Bruce Cobb
February 24, 2016 7:22 am

If I could have just one wish to help the poorest people, it would be to find a cheap, clean source of energy to power our world.

Just one, Bill? How about 4? We already have coal, natural gas, nuclear (the big 3), and hydro. Obviously, which source(s) used would depend on the area. Not the answer he wants to hear, I know.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
February 24, 2016 2:54 pm

That’s a good BINGO we have a winner. Nothing like a little common sense!

Dan Evens
February 24, 2016 7:26 am

Whoa dude. Pu238 produces about 0.5 Watts thermal per gram. And costs about $8 million per kilogram. So a 1 Giga watt plant would require, assuming a rather optimistic 30 percent efficiency, about $53 trillion dollars worth of Pu238. Or to put it another way, to provide the average electrical consumption per person of about 10 kW would require about $0.5 Billion. Maybe not the miracle we are looking for.

February 24, 2016 8:11 am

Wouldn’t it just be easyer to build coal fired power plants with the latest clean scrubber technology?

February 24, 2016 8:21 am

Send your ideas to ISIS because they are well on course to seizing a majority of the African continent. They will do so before Bill Gates and Obama wake up.

David A
Reply to  Resourceguy
February 24, 2016 9:11 am

Resource guy, cogent comment I think. I am of the view that the O and Hillary have only aided the barbaric Islamic ideology in Africa, and elsewhere, be it ISIS or other Sharia law loving religious statists.

Reply to  David A
February 24, 2016 12:33 pm

I think it’s more a case of don’t ask don’t tell type fight against terrorism or maybe hear no evil see no evil because it might suggest all is not well outside the official political agenda. This was first noticed during the Clinton years when 747s were falling out of the sky along Long Island and the most the Clintons could do was fire some cruise missiles at empty warehouse buildings and empty camps in various countries. They are much better at attacking gun rights like when that Egyptian slaughtered people at the Empire State Building.

Don B
February 24, 2016 9:11 am

“Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are nuclear power plants that are smaller in size (300 MWe or less) than current generation base load plants (1,000 MWe or higher). These smaller, compact designs are factory-fabricated reactors that can be transported by truck or rail to a nuclear power site. SMRs will play an important role in addressing the energy security, economic and climate goals of the U.S. if they can be commercially deployed within the next decade. ”

Christopher Paino
February 24, 2016 9:22 am

As always, some folks around here talk like they know how absolutely everything should be done. Why don’t ya’ll go out and do it?

Reply to  Christopher Paino
February 24, 2016 10:27 am

… limited resources.
… PC opposition.
If I could have just one wish to help Bill Gates make his wishes come true, it would be that I had access to his resources.

February 24, 2016 11:01 am

Google “Radioisotope thermoelectric generator”. They’ve been around since the 50’s. Wiki has an interesting article on them. Thorium doesn’t work well in this application because it is TOO stable. With a half life of 14 billion years, it emits too little energy to provide a good power source.

Bill Murphy
Reply to  Marcus
February 24, 2016 12:39 pm

Sorry, Marcus. Didn’t see yours before I posted below…

Reply to  Bill Murphy
February 24, 2016 1:12 pm

.. Well, at least I’m not the only one that does that !! LOL

Bill Murphy
February 24, 2016 12:37 pm

Problem Solved!!!
As a side benefit, sort of a co-product, this should produce an endless supply of Tour de France competitors and NFL running backs. /sarc

Reply to  Bill Murphy
February 24, 2016 1:13 pm

.. Great minds think alike…and watch the same news channel !!

February 24, 2016 1:10 pm

“Hoping for a miracle” is where you end up after a series of disastrously poor decisions leaves you facing inescapable catastrophe. C.f the Third Reich leadership at the end of WW2 pinning their hopes on miracle weapons.
Thus it is not surprising that energy policy makers in “western” countries, who have voluntarily placed themselves in the shadow of a completely artificial non-problem, and have paralyzed energy decision making by allowing themselves to be dominated by feeble-minded muddle-headed chattering class arts student eco-activists, now find themselves in need of a miracle.
Nuclear power is forbidden by the eco-shamans. Coal and gas are forbidden by the eco-shamans. Even hydroelectric is taboo. Wind and solar have not proved the eutopian panacea that we were promised (clean energy too cheap to meter). Where can the policy-making house of fools turn now? Only to the eco-shamans, to find an energy miracle somewhere where the sun does not shine.

Reply to  belousov
February 24, 2016 5:28 pm

Hey, just hold on a minute there!
You, dear sir, are forgetting about pixie dust, ground unicorn horn, and rainbows.

Reply to  belousov
February 25, 2016 1:54 am

I was keeping quiet about those before my share purchases in those promising new renewables were in the bag.

David L. Hagen
February 24, 2016 1:35 pm

Ezra Klein interview of Bill Gates: the energy breakthrough that will “save our planet” is less than 15 years away edited transcript
or full Podcast
Gates has an excellent grasp of the big picture. e.g. Klein:

You mentioned your climate change equation. I think it’s an interesting way to think about it — in terms of breaking down the problem, but also how revolutionary the solution would need to be. Do you want to walk through it?

P x S x E x C = CO2

BG: Yeah, it’s important for people who care about climate to not think it’s easy to solve.
The equation is: How many people are there? And that’s P, which today is about 7 billion, and will grow to be bigger than 9 billion.
Then you take how many energy-related services each person takes advantage of — that’s heating, cooling, transport, lighting. We call that S, and that will go up quite a bit as poor people in India are getting lighting, air conditioning, refrigeration. The average number of services used by a person will increase, and it should — that’s a very good thing.
Then you have E, the energy used per service. In some areas, like lighting, that number can go down a lot. In some, like transport, planes, making fertilizer — those processes are extremely optimized, and so there’s not that much room to innovate on the energy-per-service front. Even if you’re optimistic about that, maybe you’ll get to 0.6. That is, 40 percent more efficient across all services.
And so if we take these first three factors — 7 billion going to 9 billion, double the services per person, and efficiency at about 0.6, that’s increasing [emissions].
The last factor is C, the carbon per unit of energy. And so if you multiply today, you get 36 billion tons. And if you multiply in the future, you need to get zero.
And so the first three factors are not going [to change] — the first one is going up; the second one, hopefully, is going up; the third one is going down, but not enough to offset those other two.
You have to take transport, industry, household, electricity — and, at least in the middle income and rich countries, put it into a zero emission mode.

(PS Meeting the world’s energy needs further needs to focus on transport/fuels as much more important the CO2.)

Mike M. (period)
February 24, 2016 5:07 pm

This is a “miracle” we don’t need. “A kilogram of Plutonium 238 generates 500 watts of energy.” That is thermal energy. A thermoelectric converter gets 5 to 8% efficiency. So a kg Pu-238 gives max 40 W electric when it is new. At what cost? And it is only safe if nobody opens it up; then it is very deadly. I don’t know what Worrall’s background is, but I am pretty sure it is not engineering.

Retired Kit P
February 24, 2016 5:34 pm

Why do computer nerds think they know something about producing power? Bill Gates is an idiot. In general, famous people should stick to what they know be saving the world. Least they be remembered for being an idiot.
“As poisonous as plutonium is…”
Just for the record, plutonium is about as toxic as nicotine. Of course the data on nicotine is large but very few have been exposed to plutonium.
“(It did kill the business Areva.)”
Not that AREVA is dead but arrogance is the problems at AREVA. A failure to work with regulators in today’s world.
“Admiral Rickover killed them off because …”
The fact that most commercial are LWRs is a testament to how well they work. CANDU is an example of a different design operating around the world. The admiral was focused on the safe operation of naval reactors not deciding designs for the world.
“dirty bombs”
Bombs are effective weapons. If you are not injured by the blast and there is radioactive material, walk away and take a shower. Bombs are not effective at causing radiation poisoning. First because it it disbursed the radioactive material to a non lethal level. Second, the loud noise causes people to run away.
As an engineer, I look for the most practical way of doing something. I am not too worried about dirty bombs because they are going to stop with fertilizer and diesel fuel.

February 24, 2016 5:45 pm

Wow, high volume, lots of names I don’t normally see commenting. An awful lot of interest in new power. What I don’t see is people pissed off that we wasted countless billions on a made up threat. A successful businessman continues to use a failed CO2 fear to create momentum towards his “energy for all mankind” drumbeat.
Are people okay with that little deception ?

Clay Marley
February 24, 2016 6:48 pm

So it appears the only reason this planet isn’t today already dotted with reactors, including Thorium reactors, and Plutonium batteries for low level POL supply, producing abundant, cheap and reliable energy for everyone, is because of:
Irrational fear, and
Irrational violence.

February 24, 2016 7:39 pm

Does Pu-238 have any applications for nuclear bomb production? By terrorists with money, for example?
Also, how much “dangerous penetrating radiation” is “very little”?
What isotopic decay products does Pu-238 produce?

February 24, 2016 9:09 pm

Bill Gates: “We need a [energy] miracle” Here is the miracle visit for solution to CC and power crisisDev

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
February 25, 2016 12:56 am

Yes we need an energy miracle and it is not plutonium or any other ‘-onium’. It can be expressed in two words: Thermoacoustic generators. As far as Africa and Asia are concerned, a mass produced thermoacoustic generator stuck into every fire, mounted on every heating stove, sitting in the sun on every balcony, will generate far more power than these renewables. I have been trying to get my hands on a 2 kW one for a couple of years, because the current 5 kW ones are too big for applications relevant to my work. Thermo-electric generators talk about 5 and 10 watts. Solar panels talk about 40 watts. These things put out kilowatts.
Fundamentally they are Stirling engines that shake a magnet but look like a loop or straight length of pipe.

Keith Willshaw
Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Muminabad
February 25, 2016 1:56 am

They are also rather inefficient giving 20-30% thermal efficiency. Numerous companies have attempted to produce practical implementations with little success. The Aster bidirectionsal turbine shows some promise but as it involves the use of high pressure helium I don’t see it replacing the diesel used in most third world communities anytme soon.

björn from sweden
February 25, 2016 2:00 am

I rather wait and see if Rossis e-cat is real.
Lots of very prominent physicists say it is.
I was not a believer umtil swedish national radio did a defamatory hit piece on Rossi and awarded themselves all sorts of journalistic prizes for it. Then I understood they really felt threatened. They are strong advocates of CO2 taxes and retarded developement. Free energy would develope industry worldwide in a pace unthinkable, the greens worst nightmare.

björn from sweden
February 25, 2016 2:04 am

I am so sorry, my post above maybe makes little or no sense without a link, my bad.

February 25, 2016 3:17 am

Why are all these billionaires running around trying to ‘help’ poor African countries and presenting it as a cause for all of us?
Aren’t there enough poor Americans back home, Bill?

February 25, 2016 10:30 am

Meanwhile back in a land where people have decided they like energy, we see that oh wait … drumroll … they are aghast building coal fired power plants. Will the UN surround the island nation and enact an embargo for this threat to mankind ?

Stas peterson
February 25, 2016 10:39 am

Your knowledgeable observations are confirmed by my own experiences. Anyone who thinks Thorium reactors could be designed, licensed and built in less than a half century are dreaming. All heavy metal fission based reactors is eventually doomed, because they encapsulate a large quantity of poisonous actinides, that don’t dissipate for ages and must be kept from the biosphere.
Fusion despite the fatigue of accomplishing it, IS coming. Very fast now. It is and will be licensed and built, long before a new fission based technology can be licensed. These will be designed, built and licensed in under 20 years, since there is little need to keep large amounts of dangerous materials from the biosphere. Plus runaways are impossible. The fuel is seawater available to all, so localized market dominance or cartelization, as in the Mid-east don’t apply. Eventually second and third generation Fusion plants wont even generate neutrons and will be truly clean.
CAGW advocates worry about CO2 being emitted in ever increasing quantities for centuries. Fusion will lead to CO2 reductions and hydrocarbons will be used for more appropriate uses such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals and construction materials like plastics, and light weight strong, formable structural materials. Modern day Luddites and phony science Lysenkoists.and CAGWers will both be a passing phase.
Indeed I can imagine discussion about a program to ADD CO2 to the atmosphere to help counter the coming Ice Age,for which we are about due to re-occur.

Retired Kit P
Reply to  Stas peterson
February 25, 2016 5:36 pm

Stas you have no experience making electricity with fusion, nobody does. I suspect that you have no experience with power generation at all.

February 25, 2016 12:29 pm

$$ = CO2

Walter Sobchak
February 25, 2016 6:16 pm

OMG. We need a Miracle.
Really? This is blue smoke and mirrors. There will be no miracles, the laws of physics forbid them. The sun will continue to set every day. The wind will continue to be inconstant. The electromotive series won’t change. The only energy technologies with much headroom for development are nuclear, and they are anathema to the Democrat party which is still in the thrall of the Soviet anti-nuclear dezinformatsiya campaign.
OTOH, I am inclined not to worry. I deny global warming, so I am not concerned with using fossil fuels. Further, fossil fuel supplies in North America, are sufficient to render us impervious to the ongoing self destruction of Muslim Civilization. If we can get socialist governments in Venezuela, California, and New York to allow free access to their energy reserves we could maintain our economy on the basis of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.
All I Need Is A Miracle

February 26, 2016 4:19 pm

“Controlling interests” always try and keep the price of a commodity (or even a service in the case of professional organizations) high through “scarcity”. Even unions do this, in fact it is their chief purpose for existing; drive the price of labor higher than the market would dictate by limiting the employer’s options. Even your friendly teacher’s union exists solely for this purpose. So it’s not surprising OPEC and even the US government collaborated to keep energy prices high even though it now looks like they didn’t need to, when they wanted to starve Russia of revenue it was fairly easy to crush the price of oil, they’ve done it twice now. And you can’t blame it all on fracking and horizontal drilling, that technology has been around for over 20 years. It was the massive land sales all at once that crashed the price, and limited land sales that kept it up.
And it is quite a shame, since it is a well established principle that cheap energy leads to economic advancement and prosperity. It is no coincidence that the US went to the moon while they were the world’s largest oil producer, and haven’t been back since they became a net importer. Heck they can’t even get to the space station without Russian help anymore. Oh and look Russia is a net exporter.
If the US government cared about universal prosperity they would be funding at least a research Thorium reactor right now and building them everywhere if proven to work. Cheap energy would lead to solving most if not all of the problems we have. But the rich do not care about 300 million people in India without power, what they care about is their yachts and trophy wives.
The fact is, and it is a sad statement about the true nature of the human mind, that it is not about advancing, it’s about winning, and it doesn’t matter what you won so long as you win it. Our current leaders would be just as happy sitting in a 16th century castle being heated by wood so long as the peasant lived in mud huts and had to gather the wood. It’s nature. Yet if free market economics were used properly and the government worked to provide everyone with cheap energy, Bill Gates’ yacht would probably fly in space right now. Africa would be covered in farms, and Canada & Russia green houses, and there would be no scarcity of food. The work day would be 4 hours long because machines would be doing most of the trivial labor. Instead, all of these technologies that we already have are restricted by cartels of one sort or another and we spend all of our excess capital on war.

February 26, 2016 6:15 pm

Kudos for thinking outside the box, but this is a profoundly stupid idea, for several reasons. My coworkers make the Pu-238 ceramic and fuel clads that go into the NASA spacecraft. Pu-238 is fiendishly hard to work with, more than 250 times as hazardous if inhaled as weapons plutonium. Beyond that, it has a nasty tendency to “walk” if you get any loose from the ventilated enclosure (glovebox), because of the alpha particle recoil energy. Any release of Pu-238 into a room is a large release, by regulatory standards, and it’s a royal pain to clean up.
Your assertion that Pu-238 is made in significant quantities in the thorium cycle is just not accurate. True, after sufficiently long burnup (neutron bombardment) you will eventually walk a small fraction up the mass ladder from Th-232 to Pu-238. But you’ll also start making Pu-239, which is very difficult to isotopically separate from the Pu-238, and which will lower the power density of your RTG. Add to that you need to do a lot of chemical separation to recover the very small amount of Pu that’s formed away from the other actinides you’ve made and the (screaming hot) fission products. I haven’t done a back of the envelope but the power you will get from the RTGs will ultimately be miniscule compared to the power you already generated via the thorium cycle. So really, what was the point?
The “right” way to make Pu-238 is from Np-237, but you need a specially modified reactor to do it efficiently. The US currently has no such reactor, and the DOE estimate is something like $150M to reconfigure an existing reactor for this purpose. And that’s just to support the existing demand for Pu-238.
One final note. Yes, the Pu oxide ceramic that is made for NASA programs is fired to very high temperatures to ensure no dispersal in a launch accident. That’s a positive, and it’s welded into a capsule so there’s even less risk of release. And you’re right that there is minimal penetrating beta/gamma radiation. But the alpha decay generates helium, which builds up over time and generates pressure within the welded capsule. So you need to recover those fuel clads periodically to ensure they don’t burst, a practical impossibility if you’re distributing them to poor people around the world.
If you really wanted to do this, you’d be better off considering Sr-90 RTGs. The fuel is less optimal, but Sr-90 is far more abundant as a waste product in defense and civilian nuclear waste, and it’s less hazardous overall than the Pu-238 (despite its betas being more penetrating).