Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates confirmed on Wednesday that he is holding talks with China on the development of a new and safer kind of nuclear reactor.
"The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste," Gates said at a news conference after he discussed cooperation with Ministry of Science and Technology officials in Beijing on Wednesday.
Gates told the ministry that "very good discussions" were being had and that up to US$1 billion could be invested, the Associated Press reports.
The system, dubbed a travelling wave reactor, is being developed by Intellectual Ventures, the investment vehicle and sometime patent troll set up by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, and taken to market by TerraPower, which is partially funded by Gates.
Bill's nuclear candle
"It is in an early stage," Gates said.
If successful, TWRs would be smaller, cleaner nuclear reactors that would create less nuclear waste and could be used for years without refueling.
"All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe," Gates said. "They require no human action to remain safe at all times."
Gates added they also benefit from an ability to simulate earthquake and tidal wave conditions. "It takes safety to a new level," he said.
Aware of the long-term risks of storing radioactive waste and of nuclear fuel being diverted to build weapons, scientists since the 1940s have tried to develop methods to recycle the waste by using it as fuel.
TWRs are believed to be a possible solution - but only conceptually - because they have not been built or tested successfully, according to Xu Mi, chief expert of CNNC.
The Ministry of Science and Technology said it is glad to join hands with Gates.
"When we cooperate with Gates, what we value so much is not Gates' money, but his social influence, his rallying power and his innovation ability," said Zhang Laiwu, vice-minister of science and technology.
(China Daily contributed to the story)