Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Small Reactors and Closed Minds

New Picture Here’s a novel suggestion from Stephen Bainbridge: President Obama has a ready source of nuclear knowledge in the government that could turn its attention to the industrial sector:

The Navy already operates dozens of small nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines, with an outstanding record of safety and reliability. They have an established training program that churns out nuclear-capable officers.

By analogy to the Army Corps of Engineering, we could create a Navy Corps of Nuclear Engineering. It would build and operate dozens of small nuclear power plants around the country. To address security concerns, the first plants would be built on military bases, where the garrison can provide security. Licensing costs would be cut because the government would own and operate the plants.

We can imagine any number of problems with this idea, but many points to Bainbridge for having it. We haven’t heard anything this ingenious in awhile. Be sure to read the rest; we don’t agree with all of his assertions and assumptions, but it’s very interesting.

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Bainbridge’s focus on small reactors finds an echo in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Oleg Deripaska, the chief executive of Basic Element, a Russian industrial holding company. Basic Element appears to invest in a number of companies, but since the government controls the nuclear industry through Rosatom, presumably not a lot of opportunity for him there. But lack of opportunity doesn’t mean lack of ideas:

The small- and medium-sized reactors now in development could help meet energy needs in the more remote areas of the world. They don't run on fossil fuels so their location isn't constrained by access to oil, gas or coal. Nor do they require the expensive infrastructure of national electricity grids.

These new reactors are a further improvement on everything we have learned about reliable, safe and value-for-money power generation. They remove safety problems associated with operator error and equipment failure. Their working lives will be much longer than past reactors thanks to advances in fuel technology, coolants and metal alloys. We also stand on the edge of a breakthrough with new fast reactors that can reuse fuel and leave little waste.

Babcock & Wilcox and other companies working on small reactors must be quite happy that some of the promotion work is being done for them, but we have to admit, these reactors have caught the imagination of a lot of observers. The hard part’s still to come: licensing a couple of designs and building the first units.

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Although mostly an introduction to a link elsewhere, this post from Michelle Malkin caught our eye:

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama purported to reach across the aisle by endorsing a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants”…before pushing cap and trade.

The nearly $4 trillion budget he released today exposes his nuclear lie.

It zeroes out funds for the besieged Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility in Nevada — one of the few, prominent Obama campaign pledges that he looks like he’s actually fulfilling.

This encapsulates why we don’t engage partisan blogs here much. Nothing Malkin says represents an argument or point-of-view – there’s just a determination not to give an inch to a disliked politician (or political view.)

If the nuclear industry has had a good argument – and it has – it would have done itself a disservice by treating seemingly hostile politicians as dismissible or somehow, no matter what they say or do, implacably wrong. Avoiding such a stance has helped the industry while opening minds. Partisan blogs and news outlets (seem to) aim to close minds. And closed minds are the bane of policy development.

A Closed Mind by Alta Alberga.

4 comments:

SteveK9 said...

Michelle didn't seem to notice the increased loan guarantee money from $18B to $54B.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see that, with Yucca Mountain, Obama is keeping his promise to "restore Science to it's proper place in the Administration." After all, his promise-keeping track record has been spotless, with Closing Gitmo within a year from his inauguration, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, airing the Helath Care debates on C-SPAN, not raising taxes, etc...

I'd like to buy another round of Hope and Change for everyone!

travis said...

Are we to assume private industry would construct these plants at military bases? Would the private or the public industry operate these facilities? Does a "tripling" of loan guarantees in the outyears sound permanent or fleeting to you?

Upon cursory review, this sounds like a good idea. The devil, however, is in the details. It's what I've come to expect from this Administration, though - the crowding out of private industry, wherever it profits.

Anonymous said...

I am from the competitor... I think the mpower is great!! My french owned company has consolidated its fuel manufacturing to the west coast 3000 miles away to provide fuel for our east coast customers. Between that and building a costly 1600 megawatt facility its no wonder that it is speeding out of control down a rollercoaster that is about to crash. Buy USA.