Exclusive: Bill Gates on the Future of Nuclear Energy, AI

“Nuclear power, if we get it right, will help us meet our climate goals,” Gates told ABC News. “That is, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions without making the electricity system much more expensive or less reliable.”

“Nuclear power has some incredible advantages,” Gates said. “It’s not dependent on time. You can build a plant, but the amount of energy that comes out of a very small plant is gigantic.”

While nuclear power is well known for having great potential, the safety risks associated with it have historically worried some investors; however, Gates said he is confident TerraPower can build an innovative nuclear reactor that is safe and practical for the future.

Most nuclear reactors in the United States use water to cool the system, but water isn’t the best at absorbing heat, and there are pressure risks associated with overheating, which could lead to a meltdown. This new reactor, scheduled to open in 2030, will use liquid sodium instead of water to cool it. The boiling point of sodium is eight times that of water, and unlike water, liquid sodium does not need to be continuously pumped through the system.

“We’ve fixed all the areas where there were safety issues. And we have drastically less waste,” Gates said. “One great thing is that the regulator in the US is the best in the world and doing a great job. So part of the process between now and 2030 is an immensely detailed review with that safety commission on how this project is far safer than whatever came first.”

The new plant, which has been in operation for 15 years, was delayed in late 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of the same year resulted in the loss of a Russian-made specialty fuel source. But Gates assured that these problems are temporary.

“Many uranium mines and processing plants have been shut down because people expected Russia to stay on as a supplier. We need to build it domestically,” Gates said. “But we have uranium domestically. We have the capability to do the processing domestically… Long term, because of our uranium deposits here, because of reactor efficiency, this thing can have a chain completely domestic supply.”

Kemmerer, once home to a thriving coal industry, has since experienced a decline in recent years, with the coal-fired power plant scheduled for closure after nearly 60 years of operation. Gates emphasized the importance of reintegrating old US energy industries into future energy industries as a way to revitalize communities. The nuclear plant plans to employ hundreds of construction workers and former coal-fired plant employees where skillsets overlap, powering hundreds of thousands of homes, TerraPower said in a recent news release.

Gates also spoke to ABC News about his views on AI and what it means for the future of the world. He said he considers the technology revolutionary, saying “it’s pretty fundamental.”

“We’re often surprised at how good it is. Sometimes we’re surprised at what it can’t do well. Early days, but revolutionary,” Gates said.

He said he sees great potential for AI to create shockwaves in all areas where it will change the way we think about things.

“In healthcare and education, if used correctly, it’s going to be great,” Gates said. “That’s a big deal. Improving education, you know, making sure that students who go to private schools or even suburban schools, have this way of getting great feedback. You know, I’m excited.”

Gates also said he was impressed with OpenAI’s ChatGPT software and the strides it has made over the past year, telling ABC News, “I was surprised last year by the move from GPT-3 to GPT-4, it improved so much.”

The security risk of AI has also been on Gates’ mind, he said, and he expressed some of his concerns about the technology’s rapid progress and negative consequences if it were to be used with bad intentions.

“We’re all scared that a bad guy might grab it,” Gates said, adding, “If you only pause the good guys and you don’t pause everyone else, you’re probably hurting yourself.”

And while Gates said he doesn’t believe government regulators are up to speed with the technology and ready to make big decisions yet, he does believe the pros of AI outweigh the cons and that the conversation about it is heading in the right direction. direction. .

“The field, more than any field I know of, is actually involving a lot of smart people, OK, what comes next and how do we make sure it’s beneficial,” Gates said. “I see that AI, used properly, is providing a lot of benefits that, no, I wouldn’t want to throw them away.”

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