Bill Gates’ nuclear energy baby

Is a Bill Gates-backed nuclear start-up going to tackle two of nuclear’s biggest challenges: sourcing and disposing of uranium? “Talks” between TerraPower and Toshiba, one of the world’s three big nuclear energy industry leaders, are lending some hope to the idea.

TerraPower is a spin-off of Intellectual Ventures, a start-up founded by a former Microsoft CTO, backed by Gates, and has only a handful of staff. Its reactor designs could represent huge advantages over existing systems, but, the FT reports, it’s early days:

No such reactor has ever been built, however, and Toshiba is focusing on its 4S “nuclear battery”, which is much closer to realisation. 4S stands for “super-safe, small and simple”.

Intellectual Ventures’ TerraPower guide says its travelling wave reactors (TWRs) could “theoretically run forever without needing any additional enriched uranium after its startup period” if it has sufficient uranium supplied. The other advantage is that it can use depleted uranium that is treated as waste in the traditional nuclear power generation process, addressing the difficult problem of disposing of nuclear waste.


A conceptual design effort is currently underway for a small modular unit that generates a few hundred megawatts of electricity which could fit the needs of emerging markets. The conceptual design for a gigawatt-scale reactor, which is big enough to power a city, has already been completed.

In otherwords, this is very early days. And as with any new energy technology, expectations that energy supplies will be transformed in the near future should be take a rest.

Nuclear power has other problems than sourcing and disposing of uranium. Costs, and the time required for planning, regulation and testing represent significant hurdles. And of course there is public opinion, which can be very averse to the idea of nuclear accidents.

But on that last point, changes might be already taking place, at least in the US where energy secretary Steven Chu declared his support for nuclear innovation in a WSJ oped on Tuesday, and the idea of nuclear energy is becoming more popular in the US, according to a new Gallup poll. As Nicole Allan at The Atlantic points out, nuclear loan guarantees are thought to be one element of the climate bill that Senators John Kerry, Lindsay Graham and Joe Leiberman are revising.


Universal Music puts physical CDs price in line with digital pricing.

How is Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record label, dealing with the reality that its overall revenues dropped 6.2 percent even though its digital sales rose 8.4 percent? It’s going to try to breath some new life into an old product, the compact disc.

UMG is shifting its philosophy on CDs, opting for more unit sales versus trying to make the most money possible per sale, unveiling a new pricing structure called “Velocity” that puts standard CD prices at $10 or less, according to a report from Billboard. The move makes CDs a more viable alternative to outlets such as Apple’s iTunes Music Store and Amazon’s MP3 store.

“We think it will really bring new life into the physical format,” Universal Music Group Distribution President and CEO Jim Urie said in the Billboard report.

According to Billboard, reaction from the industry has been less than enthusiastic.

“Why does Universal feel the need to get below $10?” a senior distribution executive at a competing major asked, according to the report.

The pricing structure will yield a 25 percent profit margin, meaning that a $10 CD will carry a wholesale price of $7.50. This is not UMG’s first large-scale price program. In 2003, the company rolled out its “JumpStart” program that reduced the price of CDs to around $12.98 from as high as $18.98.

The next step to observe with the program will be how retailers embrace the new pricing structure. Trans World tried an experiment in 2009 at f.y.e. stores where all CDs except double albums were dropped to the $9.99 price point. According to Billboard, that program resulted in a 100 percent increase in CD sales.

Wal-Mart has also been clamoring for $10 CDs for some time, but has wanted the label to lower prices so that Wal-Mart does not lose as much money on CD sales.

It should also be noted that the new price structure is limited to what one might call “basic” CDs and that the company plans to ramp up more special editions and collector editions that will carry a premium.

NASDAQ: Russian hacker manipulated stock prices

U.S. regulators are moving to freeze the assets and trading accounts of a Russian accused of hacking into personal online portfolios and manipulating the price of dozens of stocks listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market and New York Stock Exchange.

A New York federal judge on Tuesday sided with the Securities and Exchange Commission and froze the assets of Broco Investments, believed to be a one-trader operation based in St. Petersburg, Russia. The SEC said Broco capitalized by artificially moving prices of more 38 thinly traded securities — enabling Broco to profit from up-or-down price swings. “These transactions have created the appearance of legitimate trading activity and have artificially affected the prices of at least 38 issuers,” the Securities and Exchange Commission said in court filing.
The so-called “hack, pump and dump” scheme is among the latest illicit methods of gaming the market though hacking. An Indian man was sentenced to two years in prison for undertaking a similar scam in 2008. That same year, a Ukrainian hacked into Thomson Financial to get a peek about an upcoming negative earnings report for IMS Health, earning nearly $300,000 for a few minutes’ work. And in July, a computer programmer working for Goldman Sachs was arrested on charges he stole proprietary source code for software his employer uses to make sophisticated, high-speed stock and commodities trades.

In the latest case, the affected stocks ranged from Akeena Solar, Magellan Petroleum to Xerium Technologies. The prices fluctuated more than 20 percent in some instances. Broco would purchase these and other stocks in its own portfolio and immediately place unauthorized buy orders at inflated prices of the same securities in hacked Scottrade accounts, the SEC said.
“Immediately or shortly thereafter, the defendants capitalized on the artificially inflated share prices of the targeted securities by selling the shares previously acquired in their account,” the SEC alleged. “In other instances, the defendants profited by covering short positions previously established in their account while placing unauthorized sell orders through the compromised accounts at substantially lower prices.”

Along the way, victims lost $600,000 in market value the last few months alone, the SEC said. And Broco, believed to be a one-person company run by Valery Maltsev, reaped $255,000 in ill-gotten gains during the same time.
Daily trading volume in Pennsylvania-based financial services company AmeriServe Financial averaged about 11,300 shares in from Dec. 1 to Dec. 20, the SEC said. The next day, volume increased 20 times. At least 200,000 shares were bought and sold through Broco or hacked Scottrade accounts, allowing Broco to leverage the prices for its own profits.
“Broco grossed $141,500 in approximately 15 minutes,” the SEC said.