This article was first published in December 2010. I’ve added video that gives information about an alternative energy system under development by Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen and Vinod Kohsla, founder of Sun Microsystems, along with a number of senior Microsoft investors.
There is little wonder that British Columbia’s private power producers insisted on long-term take-or-pay supply contracts. In 2010, according to Vancouver Sun reporter Scott Simpson, BC Hydro’s last round of private power acquisitions included purchase prices up to 13.4¢ per KWh plus inflation escalators. The Super-Safe, Small & Simple (4S) ‘nuclear battery’ system developed by Toshiba and Westinghouse projects production costs of 5¢ to 7¢ per KWh, less a U.S. federal subsidy of 2¢. And that is only one of many small scale nuclear power options coming into production. As a result, BC producers recognized formidable price uncertainty in the near and long term and convinced Gordon Campbell to have the public assume all risk of financial losses.
Contracts as long as 40 years, with certainty of high prices and no unsold power, give private producers in BC risk-free profits, unprecedented in Canadian business. BC Hydro’s hoped-for export market in the USA will likely disappear through advances in low cost power generation to which American utilities are committing.
A technology update from respected international journal The Economist:
“A global race is under way to develop small-reactor designs, says Paul Genoa of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry body in Washington, DC. He estimates that more than 20 countries have expressed serious interest in buying mini-reactors.
“At least eight different approaches are being developed, mainly in America and Asia, by an army of 3,000 nuclear engineers, according to Ron Moleschi of SNC-Lavalin Nuclear, an engineering firm based in Montreal. Regulatory and licensing procedures are lengthy, so little will be built until around 2017, he says. But after that the industry is expected to take off. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that by 2030 at least 40 (and possibly more than 90) small reactors will be in operation. It reckons that more than half of the countries that will build nuclear plants in coming years will plump for these smaller, simpler designs.
“. . . Engineers of small reactors stress their similarity to proven, existing designs such as those found in nuclear-powered ships and submarines . . .
“. . . TerraPower, an American firm backed by Bill Gates, thinks it has the solution. It is working with Toshiba to design a small reactor based on a “travelling wave” design. Once kick-started with a tiny amount of enriched uranium, it would run for decades on non-enriched, depleted uranium, a widely available material. . .
“. . . Mr Gates points out that nuclear power has historically been dogged by five worries: safety, proliferation, waste, cost and fuel availability. “This thing is a miracle that solves all five,” he says. . . .”
Who should British Columbians trust for business judgement? Should it be Bill Gates, the world’s wealthiest man until he put his wealth into charitable work, or a teacher turned politician whose major private enterprise was a failed hotel development? In the power production industry, one gambles with his own money, the other gambles with taxpayers’ funds. Gates, by the way is joined in his nuclear investment by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Vinod Kohsla, founder of Sun Microsystems, along with a number of senior Microsoft investors.