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Gates talking nuke reactor with China

| Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates met with executives of Westinghouse Electric Co. in Cranberry last year to learn about their efforts in building nuclear power plants.

Wednesday, Gates confirmed he is in discussions with China to jointly develop a new and safer kind of nuclear reactor.

"The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste," said the billionaire during a talk at China's Ministry of Science and Technology.

Gates said he had largely funded a Washington state-based company, TerraPower, that is developing a Generation IV nuclear reactor that can run on depleted uranium. TerraPower says it has discussed its plans with India, Russia and other countries with nuclear energy programs.

Westinghouse Electric spokesman Vaughn Gilbert was not surprised by Gates' nuclear efforts.

"He's been very supportive of the nuclear industry," said Gilbert. Gates met with company executives at its headquarters in Cranberry last year "to talk with us about things we've been doing," he said.

China is building the first of four, AP1000 nuclear reactors designed by Westinghouse to satisfy its vast need for electricity. Gilbert said it's likely China will deploy even more of the Westinghouse reactors in the future.

"The market over there is huge," he said. "And China has made it clear the AP1000 is the technology that will be involved," he said.

Last week, the general manager of state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation, Sun Qin, was quoted in Chinese media saying Gates was working with it to research and develop a reactor.

"TerraPower is having very good discussions with CNNC and various people in the Chinese government," said Gates, cautioning the talks were at an early stage.

Gates says perhaps as much as a billion dollars will be put into research and development over the next five years.

TerraPower says its traveling wave reactor would run for decades on depleted uranium and produce significantly smaller amounts of nuclear waste than conventional reactors.

"All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe," Gates told the audience. "They require no human action to remain safe at all times."

He said they also benefit from an ability to simulate earthquake and tidal wave conditions. "It takes safety to a new level," he said.

Since leaving Microsoft Corp., Gates has concentrated on philanthropy and advocating on public health, education and clean energy issues. He is an investor and strategic adviser to TerraPower.

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