Bill Gates has invested in TerraPower, a company developing a “traveling wave” nuclear reactor that produces significantly smaller amounts of nuclear waste than conventional nuclear reactors that can run almost indefinitely on depleted uranium. They are talking to China about building the plant because the company can’t get government permission to build in the USA.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed Gates about the project:
MR. MURRAY: Do you put probabilities on these miracles?
MR. GATES: It’s pretty hard. I think for society’s sake, we need to fund basic energy research at least twice as much as we do right now. And for some of these things, you have to put on a serious carbon tax.
MR. MURRAY: What are the odds of that happening in the next couple of years?
MR. GATES: It depends on the I.Q. of the U.S. public.
MR. MURRAY: And your current assessment of that?
MR. GATES: Anytime you really look close at politics, it has looked pretty ugly. Yet the U.S. has managed to do the right thing in a variety of issues. I do think, over time, that consensus will emerge.
Gates is confident because the USA “has managed to do the right thing in a variety of issues” and will continue to make good decisions, but I argue that the rise and fall of empires is as nearly as predictable as the ocean tides. A flood of government debt is drowning the USA, Europe, and Japan because socialism always fails.
It’s the “consensus” that I fear most because it is often wrong. The consensus today is that the government should consume 45% of GDP (including energy research and venture capital spending on energy businesses like Solyndra), compared to the 25% of GDP that government consumed in 1962 when Milton Friedman wrote Capitalism and Freedom, arguing that the government was too big.