Members of the Trump administration are actively working to convince Bill Gates to relocate his now-scrapped nuclear reactor project in China over to the United States.
“We hope we can work with them and bring them back,” said Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette in an exchange with reporters on Monday.
Brouillette revealed that the Energy Department has held “several conversations” with Gates, adding that he was optimistic that the U.S. government could streamline the permitting process and entice the billionaire to bring his project stateside.
“That was a concern of theirs and a reason they went to a different country,” Brouillette explained of the arduous permitting rules in the U.S. which originally prompted Gates to pick China.
Gates — a billionaire business magnate known for launching Microsoft — is the founder and chairman of TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company with 180 employees and headquartered in Bellevue, Washington.
What’s significant about TerraPower is its work on a nuclear reactor design that is smaller, safer and more affordable than conventional nuclear reactors.
If successful, the new design could revolutionize the U.S. nuclear fleet, which has suffered a steady decline in recent years as its increasingly rendered unaffordable against cheaper natural gas and subsidy-backed renewable energy.
After entering into a deal with China National Nuclear Corp., TerraPower agreed in 2017 to build a demonstration reactor and have it tested in Cangzhou. The innovative design includes a traveling-wave reactor that would use depleted uranium as fuel.
Unfortunately for Gates, new U.S. policy made it too difficult for his company to continue the project. Citing national security concerns, the Energy Department in October slapped down stricter rules regarding nuclear deals with the Chinese government, whom the Trump administration worries would use such civilian technology for military purposes.
“Unfortunately, America is no longer the global leader on nuclear energy that it was 50 years ago. To regain this position, it will need to commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious,” Gates wrote in a year-end blog post, first revealing his botched nuclear plans.
U.S. lawmakers, for their part, have acknowledged the need to update the country’s nuclear energy regulations, and have taken action.
In the waning days of December, Congress passed The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act by wide margins in both chambers.
The legislation aims to streamline the regulatory process for commercial nuclear plants, with an end game of making the development and commercialization of nuclear technology more affordable.
If signed by President Donald Trump, the bill could make nuclear projects, like the one Gates is spearheading, easier to accomplish.
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