Let's Go Nuclear

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The electric car sucks. Oh, sure, it’s a great idea to move pollution out of the city center to wherever the electricity is being produced, but right now, we in the US suck so badly at getting power from one place to another and in extracting it from its source to make electricity that the whole idea of a plug-in hybrid is pretty damned wasteful.

So let’s go nuclear, and let’s do it right. Let’s put a pebble-bed nuclear reactor in every substation. Doing so would deliver clean, safe power efficiently.

On April 29, 1991, a professor of mine, Cliff Grigg, said, “The best energy solution for this country would be a self-contained nuclear reactor on every street corner.” Little did I know that his words were prophetic, although it’s now many years later and the place where this energy revolution is taking place is China, not the United States. As an article by Spencer Reiss for Wired Magazine states, the Chinese face a power crisis of immense proportion and are developing pebble bed reactor technology to solve it.

It’s in China that this development is occurring because the Chinese have recognized that pebble bed reactors represent an extraordinary advance in nuclear energy. They’re clean and safe, and they represent a huge potential source of electricity and hydrogen at a reasonable price. Because they’re small and self-contained, placement closer to the end user reduces transmission losses and power grid strain. In summary, they’re a nearly-perfect source of power.

Surprisingly, though, in spite of all of these benefits, only Westinghouse appears to be positioned to partner with the Chinese to bring this superb technology to the US.

We keep talking about fuel cells, too, but guess what? Unless you can make hydrogen cheaply, that’s not going to go anywhere. Enter pebble bed reactors with their potentially-significant hydrogen output. And transporting hydrogen? That’s alleviated because the production facility moves closer to the consumer as the reactors become more widely deployed.

John Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association and former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency and other U.N. agencies, writes in The Washington Post:

In the current [2005] debate over the energy bill, one important factor is being all but ignored: A global renaissance in nuclear energy is gaining momentum, and it could have greater implications than any or all of the other proposed methods being discussed for dealing with our energy problems.

Every authoritative energy analysis points to an inescapable imperative: Humankind cannot conceivably achieve a global clean-energy revolution without a rapid expansion of nuclear power to generate electricity, produce hydrogen for tomorrow’s vehicles and drive seawater-desalination plants to meet a fast-emerging world water crisis.

In short, the world is going to have to “go nuclear,” as Reiss says.

And the US should be following right in China’s footsteps and should be doing it big. And until solar gets above its miniscule efficiency, and until wind farms gain greater acceptance, and until we recognize that there are very, very few things that we humans do that don’t impact the earth and that we’ll have to choose the least evil option, nuclear is the least evil option. So let’s do it!

Comments? Go ahead. Make my day.


You are right, we need to go nuclear power, we would need many thousands of new nuke power plant per year to feed 7+ billions and clean up the mess we are in. We need to recycle the nuclear waste with next generation plants, we need to recycle all the other waste with pyrolysis... But you know what, people are afraid of what they do not understand... It is hard to understand these technologies and as long as the majority of the people don't take time to understand and stop being afraid... Well....

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