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Bill Gates: Stop shutting down nuclear reactors & build new nuclear power plants to fight climate change

As some nuclear power companies continue to shut down nuclear reactors for reasons ranging from economic woes to safety concerns, Bill Gates is bullish on nuclear power as a clean energy solution to climate change.

Gates, who is also an investor in nuclear power, told the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Energy Assembly on Wednesday that the United States needs to strengthen its commitment to existing nuclear power plants and invest in new ones.

“Today, nuclear power is at a crossroads. Nearly 20% of America’s electricity comes from nuclear,” Gates said. “But while America’s current nuclear capacity serves the country well, there are far more reactors slated for retirement than there are new reactors under construction.”

In April, the Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant north of New York City retired its last operating nuclear reactor. And the Exelon Corporation has announced plans to retire two of its Illinois nuclear power plants in the fall.

If these retirements come to fruition, 2021 could set a record for the most retirements of nuclear generators in a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Since 1960, the United States has retired 40 nuclear generators but it has never this many in one year, sasy an EIA spokesperson.

According to Gates, “if we’re serious about solving climate change, and quite frankly we have to be, the first thing we should do is keep safe reactors operating.”

But “even then, just maintaining that status quo is not enough. We need more nuclear power to zero out emissions in America and to prevent a climate disaster,” Gates said Wednesday.

(Getting to “net zero” emissions means achieving no new quantity of emissions in the atmosphere, according to the United Nations, both through reduced emissions and removal of emmissions from the atmosphere.)

Gates is the founder and chairman of TerraPower, an advanced nuclear technology company that launched in 2006. On June 2, TerraPower announced it will build an advanced nuclear power plant at a retiring coal power plant in Wyoming. The specific location in Wyoming is not yet decided: several potential locations in Wyoming are under currently under consideration, according to the company.