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Gates teams with Japan to build $5.5 billion nuclear reactor

·2-min read
Photo of Bill Gates at an event. (Source: Reuters)
Bill Gates' company Terrapower is set to sign an agreement with Japan to build a high-tech nuclear reactor in Wyoming. (Source: Reuters)

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has brokered a deal with Japan to build a nuclear reactor in the United States, according to a Reuters report.

Terrapower, a start-up co-founded by Gates to revolutionise designs for nuclear reactors, will join hands with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd to build the high-tech facility in Wyoming.

TerraPower is set to open its Natrium plant in 2028. The US government will provide funding to cover half of the US$4 billion ($5.56 billion) project.

The Japanese firms will provide technical assistance and data from Japan's own reactors.

Gates' company had initially explored the prospect of building an experimental nuclear plant with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp but that plan was derailed after the Donald Trump administration restricted nuclear deals with China.

While it is believed nuclear power could be essential in the fight against global warming, its generation has fallen in recent years as several countries turn away in favour of investing in renewables.

In some countries, however, nuclear energy programs are continuing to grow at a fast pace. The top contenders in this space are the United States, China and France as per the 2021 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

China has the fastest-growing nuclear energy program in the world, having added two new reactors in 2020.

The new agreement between TerraPower and JAEA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is expected to be signed as early as this month.

Japan had decommissioned its Monju prototype advanced reactor in 2016, a project that yielded a low return on investment of US$8.5 billion ($11.81).

Public distrust of nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, coupled with accidents and regulatory breaches, led to the shutting of the Monju facility.

Where does Australia stand?

Australia has never had a nuclear power station. The only nuclear reactor, at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney, is for scientific and medical research, and mostly produces low-level waste.

While Australia is the world's third-largest producer of uranium after Kazakhstan and Canada and hosts 33 per cent of the world's uranium deposits, it is cheaper for Australia to rely on its extensive low-cost coal and natural gas reserves.

Hence, the need to seize nuclear power is not seen as a pressing issue by the government even though it has always talked about building nuclear power plants.

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