A surprise to many is that Bill Gates of Microsoft fame is now the owner of a company running tests to become the builder of next-generation nuclear reactors.
The name of his company is TerraPower, located near Bellevue, Washington.
Gates and his associates fully support further development of wind and solar energy. At the same time they emphasize that nuclear power has a big role to play in the transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free sources of energy.
The red flag raised by many people is the fear of nuclear waste disposal, safety issues and the cost of operation.
TerraPower is addressing those concerns head on. They have 150 employees working on technologies that address safe waste disposal and other issues.
The startup company founded by Gates has reactors that are safer than traditional water-cooled reactors.
The TerraPower reactors use liquid sodium that operate at lower pressure and are not vulnerable to explosions such as those which hit the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, part of what was then the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s.
About 20% of electrical power in the United States comes from nuclear. This percentage, however, is lower than nuclear energy produced in countries such as France and Japan.
Fossil fuels account for 63% of U.S. electrical power and 17% comes from renewables.
Thanks in part to fracking, it’s cheaper to build and operate gas-fired power plants than nuclear reactors.
“If you think about the accomplishments of Bill Gates in computing, we’re really trying to repeat that for nuclear energy,” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s president and CEO. “We believe nuclear is overdue for technology demonstrations.”
Closer to home, Xcel Energy for many years has operated three nuclear power plants, two at Red Wing and one at Monticello, between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.
Gates and his wife, Melinda, also have a foundation with goals to enhance health care, reduce extreme poverty all over the world, expand educational opportunities and provide additional access to information technology in the United States.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s there were buildings along old Highway 210 near what is now the northeast section of Fleet Farm on the northwest side of Fergus Falls.
This area was fondly referred to as Edgetown, before the westward expansion and construction of Interstate 94.
Included were Edgetown Lumber, International Harvester, a cabinet business, roller skating rink and Tysdal’s Auction Market.
To the south and across the road was the old radio station with its three large towers and blinking red lights atop those towers.
Special memories of Edgetown Lumber come from John Runningen, a 1971 graduate of Fergus Falls High School who grew up at 1032 W. Summit Ave. He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Runningen has special praise for Edgetown Lumber manager Ed Belka who was a close friend of Runningen’s grandfather, Rudy Mohagen.
“Edgetown Lumber came to the rescue when I needed to move my stump house,” Runningen recalls. “We didn’t want to tear it apart to move it.”
He says the stump house was about 6 feet square with old oak stumps holding up each corner.
“We had purchased all the wood from Mr. Belka at Edgetown Lumber, so we went over to ask if he could use his forklift to move the stump house. He said ‘of course,’ and sent his driver over to our house,” Runningen says.
“I remember it went all of 3 mph, very slow indeed for an anxious boy. When he got to our house, he lifted it right up, moved it about 50 feet and set it down on the new stumps that had been set up and leveled. A perfect fit.”
A footnote: In the fall of 1964 several acres of farmland were acquired east of Edgetown to establish a permanent home for Fergus Falls Community College.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears in the Weekend Edition.