Battling Billionaires

It is not unusual for Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to make the news.  Both men are flamboyant billionaires who make both high profile investments and have been generous philanthropically.   This last week has seen both men investing in non-traditional energy sources, but from here these affluent friends differ.

Bill Gates is in China hawking the next generation of small nuclear plants.   Mr Buffett on the other hand is purchasing one of the largest solar installations in the world.  So neither man needs to make money, ranked 2 and 3 respectively as the wealthiest people in the world, but they believe both in the capitalist system and they have a desire to leave a positive legacy.

Gates is starting with promises which will sound familiar to anyone who has worked on nuclear power issues.  “All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe,” says Gates. “They require no human action to remain safe at all times.”  Well, this is actually part of the mantra of the “passively safe” third generation plants which are being build in France and Finland and running terribly over budget and years late.  Of course new technology ought to solve this problem.

Buffett is no stranger to nuclear power, having at one point having had his energy subsidiary, MidAmerican, investigate purchasing a reactor.  MidAmerican’s presidents conclusion was “Consumers  expect reasonably priced energy, and the company’s due diligence process has led to the conclusion that it does not make economic sense to pursue the project at this time.” In 2008, MidAmerican scrapped their plans for a reactor in Idaho.

Later that same year Buffet bought Constellation energy, which was proposing to build a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland.  But Buffet fairly quickly turned this purchase around and sold it to the French utility EDF at a profit.  Calvert Cliffs 3 then crashed and will likely never be built.

It will be at least a decade before construction is started on Mr. Gates novel reactor and who knows how many years after that before it is commercially viable.  Last month they broke ground at the Topaz Solar sit.  It should be finished in 3 years and will produce 550 MW and power 160K homes.  Solar construction projects rarely have the troubles reactros do.

So the choice is ours, we can invest in a bright future or the radioactive equivalent of the blue screen of death.