If renewable energy is on the rise in America, why should we even bother with nuclear power? Seattle tech maverick Nathan Myhrvold, who’s backing a next-generation nuclear venture called TerraPower, explains the rationale in terms of toasters.
Myhrvold lays out his toaster analogy in an extended video clip from “Nova: The Nuclear Option,” a PBS documentary that premieres tonight.
The program looks at the prospects for nuclear power five years after an earthquake and tsunami dealt a crippling blow to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. Fukushima’s foul-up dealt a blow to nuclear power’s image as well, but tonight’s show focuses on next-generation technologies aimed at making fission-generated power safer and easier to manage.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Myhrvold head the board for TerraPower, which came into being as a spin-off from Intellectual Ventures. Like Intellectual Ventures, TerraPower is headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., but the focus of its business has to do with the developing world’s energy needs.
In the video, Myhrvold explains it this way: Each American draws an average of 11 kilowatts of electrical power, which translates to having 11 toasters working all day, every day. In comparison, the global average is 2.5 kilowatts (or 2.5 toasters), which is roughly equivalent to China’s current consumption level.
India’s average is 1.5 kilowatts, or a toaster and a half. Africa is at 800 watts, which isn’t quite a toaster’s worth but equivalent to a coffeemaker.
In the decades ahead, the whole world wants to have 11 toasters’ worth of electricity, like the United States. “They’re all going to go to 11 toasters,” Myhrvold said.
“We’re going to grow the whole world energy supply by a factor of five this century. … We need that factor of five because the whole world’s starting to get rich,” he said.
TerraPower aims to help satisfy that expected demand with a new type of nuclear reactor that makes use of depleted uranium and can sustain the fission process indefinitely.
In 2015, TerraPower struck a deal with the China National Nuclear Corporation to work together on traveling-wave reactor designs.
The tale of TerraPower and other nuclear initiatives, including technologies pioneered at the Idaho National Laboratory, will get some screen time on tonight’s “Nova” show. And after it airs on TV, you should be able to watch it anytime online. How’s that for innovation?