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Gates talking with China about a safer reactor

BEIJING – Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates confirmed Wednesday he is in discussions with China to jointly develop a new and safer kind of nuclear reactor.

“The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste,” said the billionaire during a talk at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Gates said he had largely funded a Washington state-based company, TerraPower, that is developing a Generation IV nuclear reactor that can run on depleted uranium. TerraPower says it has discussed its plans with India, Russia and other countries with nuclear energy programs.

Gates says perhaps as much as a billion dollars will be put into research and development over the next five years.

TerraPower says its traveling wave reactor would run for decades on depleted uranium and produce significantly smaller amounts of nuclear waste than conventional reactors.

Associated Press

AstraZeneca laying off 1,150 employees

INDIANAPOLIS – AstraZeneca PLC will cut roughly 24 percent of its U.S. sales force in a push to curb costs as the drugmaker fends off growing generic challenges.

The British company said Wednesday that it will cut 1,150 employees, including sales representatives and managers. It employs 14,000 people in North America, with most of those working in the United States.

“These changes are driven by the need to effectively compete in a challenging environment,” spokesman Tony Jewell said.

Wednesday’s announced layoffs are in addition to 400 cuts in AstraZeneca’s U.S. business laid out in October.

Associated Press

Buffett company investing in solar power

Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings company has agreed to buy a giant, 550-megawatt photovoltaic farm currently under construction for $2 billion, giving a huge boost to the solar industry that could spur investment by other major players.

The “utility-scale” facility MidAmerican is purchasing is being built in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., by First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Ariz.

“In a lot of ways, this is classic Warren Buffett,” said Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. “He comes in to an industry that is starving for capital investment. At the same time, this is something that also tells people it’s time to take solar power seriously.”

Solar power currently provides just 1 percent of the nation’s renewable power generation, according to the Energy Department. But it is also the nation’s fastest-growing energy generation platform, said Michelle Kinman, a clean-energy advocate for Environment California.

“Solar is a sound investment,” Kinman said, “a fact bolstered by MidAmerican’s announcement today.”

Los Angeles Times