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« Iraq Liberation Act: 10th anniversary celebration - 8 | Main | Obama pivots against genocide »

October 08, 2008


jj mollo

This is a very hopeful development. The uranium hydride is the key to solving safety issues. It allows the effective use of low level enrichment and, amazingly, provides its own fail-safe switch. If it overheats, the released hydrogen acts as a moderator. The resourcefulness of the species might save us yet.

On a related topic, you should look into the thorium fuel cycle. It presents another way to eliminate the runaway reactor risk. Plus, it also eliminates the risk of nuclear proliferation.


There's virtually no risk of "proliferation" from a standard power reactor anyway. They don't produce the right mix of isotopes for a weapon and there's no effective way to separate them.

What I don't quite understand is why it's better to have lots of little reactors than a few big ones. Can someone point out how that's useful? Less distribution costs? But surely you lose some economy of scale too...

Frank Warner

Two things, both on the irrational side.

1. Some people just oppose anything huge, even if it's a good thing.

2. Some people are even more protective of aesthetics than I am, and I am. Here in Pennsylvania, I am not happy with the way the two Limerick nuclear plant cooling towers spoil the rural horizon for 10 miles in every direction. JJ has said he likes to see them; they're a reminder of progress. And I understand his point. But it is a personal thing. If you live on one of those old Limerick area farms, or if you live next to one of those old farms, you lost something when those 500-foot-tall monstrosities went up. I assume the smaller reactors would mean smaller cooling towers.

I suppose having many smaller nuclear plants also has an advantage in that the outage of any one or two reactors could not black out an entire region. There would be lots of other reactors to turn to.

However, I do wonder whether that balances out against the necessity to protect so many reactors from terrorists and natural disasters. Security would have none of the economies of scale.


Smaller reactors can reduce transmission costs by providing power where it is needed.

And by having many small reactors of a standard design instead of one large reactor of custom design, the economy of scale is not lost. Maintaining spare parts, documentation, training and all that goes with the reactors is much easier by having a uniform design among them.

More reactors does mean more targets for terrorists, but it also means the potential for damage caused is less for each. It kind of balances out.

wayne smith

I think this is a great techonolgy if it is used right. It could make the world a happpier place providing power, water and fuel to people who do not have it.


Even though these reactors would be sealed. I think there is still a danger some idiot or groups of idiots might tamper with them. Even though the mataerial inside is not weapons grade it is still dangerous. If terroist could somehow manger to take out the secruity deatil around them. They could dump the contents into ground water, food supply and kill or make ill a lot of people.

I think hundred of thousand of these things is too much. I think we would be better off with thousand of not hundreds of thousand. It would much easier to safeguard a thousand 100 MW reactors than 100,000 35mw reactors a nightmaire of logistics.

Happy Lovejoy

Don't worry about safety.
Each mini nuke plant will have a man standing on top of its small containment mound waving a red flag....just like they had to have a man with a red flag walking in front of motor cars.
As for size...Toshiba are working on a 200KW heating plant for large buildings in cold places. It will fit in a broom cupboard... and have a child waving a red flag at the door.

The immediate pro gramme for new stand alone power plants may be generator barges moored dockside in harbors. Quick, simple and stupid.
If you don't pay your power bill they can just cast off moorings and go elsewhere.

jj mollo

The point being that gimcrack know-how is useless without wisdom. OK, fine. I think that blanket denunciation of a technology, a technology far superior to our current implementation of energy policy, is not a mark of wisdom.

It's true that a lot of locomotives blew up or ran over cows when it was a new technology. That doesn't happen as much lately and people got over it. I'm sure some people at the time would have been happier without trains. Canals were good enough and didn't burn all that coal. Personally, I think we're better off for it, and we have substantially cleared up the negative externalities of the railroad business.

Nuclear energy starts out with far fewer externalities than its competitors. The margin of environmental superiority and safety with nuclear outshines any alternative, including actual horse power. The manure piles were terrible. And nuclear is so much more reliable and productive. Our demands for perfection from nuclear power are ludicrous, but in actuality the nuclear industry has delivered on those demands! Give them a chance.

I am a big believer in E&C, efficiency and conservation, which is imo the single greatest untapped energy resource. Nevertheless, environmentalists today represent the biggest impediment to environmental improvement. Their disdain for engineering solutions and cynicism about our ability to implement appropriate safeguards has resulted in unmitigated CO2 increases for the last thirty-five years, not to mention the gusher of misspent wealth we have been shipping to Saudi Arabia.

To me, the nuclear solution is analogous to Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution. "It just ain't natural!" they said. You can criticize it if you want, but it fed a lot of hungry people. The Poor are also stakeholders on this planet.

A quote from the TimesOnline:

In April 2002 Borlaug signed a declaration with several environmental experts, including Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, in favour of “high-yield conservation”. The movement against trendy agricultural primitivism has since gained pace, yet the lack of respect paid to Borlaug’s teachings in recent years is astonishing in relation to his impact on human society. Many of those who rubbished his acheivements as a “brown revolution”, he said, were Utopians and elitists who had “never experienced the physical sensation of hunger”.

Environmentalists who are truly green are proponents of nuclear power.

Frank Warner

That's it, JJ. Real liberals are for the little guy, and not for the pipe dream that pretends all suffering ends on its own.

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