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U.S. Nuclear Power to China?

(Courtesy of

In our “Weird Recycling” podcast, Nathan Myhrvold talks about TerraPower, the nuclear-power firm that he and Bill Gates are promoting, which would use depleted uranium (castoff waste from traditional nuclear plants) as fuel. TerraPower has impressive plans but has yet to build its first plant.

It was a long interview, only a sliver of which made it into the podcast. One leftover part concerned the U.S.’s skittishness about nuclear power:

DUBNER: So do you think that the first Terra Power plant to be built if there is one built will be not on US soil?

MYHRVOLD: Virtually certain.

DUBNER: Where do you think it would be?

MYHRVOLD: Well, there are two natural places to build the first Terra Power plant. One is in the countries that have the demand … a place like China or India, where they have the need for the power. Another place you might build it is a country that understands the strategic importance of nuclear and has been, you know, supporting nuclear for a long time. That’s not the United States, but that is France. That is Japan, although their local support for that has been wavering of course. That’s also Russia.

Today comes news, via the Associated Press, that the first TerraPower plant may land a destination sooner rather than later:

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates says he is in discussions with China to jointly develop a new kind of nuclear reactor. During a talk at China’s Ministry of Science & Technology Wednesday, the billionaire said: “The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste.” … He says TerraPower is having “very good discussions” with state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation. Gates says perhaps as much as a billion dollars will be put into research and development over the next five years.

It would be a curious thing indeed if TerraPower’s American-designed nuclear technology were pioneered in China and then re-imported to the U.S. if and when it were proven safe and effective.

On the other hand, maybe that’s not so curious: just as we have off-shored manufacturing in recent decades, this would be a case of off-shoring perceived risk.