Full steam ahead on nukes?
Reader’s who wrote us are vocal about nuclear power and mostly in favor of it. And even the recent accident in Japan hasn’t dimmed their enthusiasm for new reactors and power plants.
The nuclear debate
Nuclear power has become a politicized issue fueled by the public’s lack of understanding and media misinformation (“In Nuclear Energy, the U. S S. Will Watch the World Go By,” March 17). As usual, we see knee-jerk reactions to events in Japan by the politicians, a group not noted for its technical knowledge. The public then chimes in with statements that are generally unsubstantiated by technical facts. The media builds on all this by consistently discussing “explosions” in the context of nuclear power.
The former USSR took many shortcuts in its use of nuclear power and did many things for expediency. And both the USSR (now Russia) and Japan have been less than forthcoming in informing the public about accidents. Contrast all this with the U.S.S. Navy nuclear program. Effective reactor design and rigid operator training have given us over 50 years of reactor operation with zero accidents.
The last obscure fact people need to know is that the average coal-fired power plant emits more radioactivity than the average nuclear power plant.
I note that you believed that the U. S S. does not have a plan to deal with nuclear waste, whereas the French have a facility at La Hague. Maybe you are not aware of the project at the Savannah River site, near Aiken, S. C. A large reprocessing facility is under construction. According to its Web site: “The design of the facility is based on AREVA’s MELOX and La Hague MOX facilities in France. The French have used MOX technology for almost two decades and currently supply MOX fuel to over 30 reactors worldwide.”
Yes, but the point is that facility is run by a French company. At least some of the profits leave the U. S. and go to France. And it’s sadly ironic that the reprocessing technology originally pioneered in the U. S. was refined in France. Now, the French are selling it back to us. — Leland Teschler
When it comes to nuclear engineering, most people have been kept in the dark about miniature nuclear generators built 40 years ago by Babcocks & Wilcox. They were about the size of a briefcase and designed to be placed in an 8-ft cube of reinforced concrete and buried in a homeowner’s back yard. The fail-safe power plant could generate all the household’s electricity and hot water for around 30 years. After that, it was dug up and replaced and the old one was broken open and refurbished.
B&W had several running in its Lynchburg, Va., facility for years. They only contained around 4 to 6 oz of irradiated fuels. B&W also tried to market the idea, but it was shut out by the bureaucrats who had no understanding of this technology.
Now engineers at Sandia Labs have reproduced a new series of mini reactors similar to the B&W concept. So the U. S S. has the technology and engineers to let safe nuclear energy flourish. So why are bureaucrats standing in the way of future development?
What is it that France, Canada, Germany, South Korea, and South Africa understand about nuclear power plants that we don’t?
Modern nuclear plants are far safer than the one in Japan built by GE. Pebble-bed reactors, for example, are much safer and being built in South Korea and South Africa. We, on the other hand, are hobbled by Chicken Littles too afraid of their own shadows to consider serious energy production while dictating to us the types of light bulbs we can use. Alternative energy will not provide us the power we need for all the inefficient devices they want everyone to use. Plus our electrical-distribution network hasn’t been updated in decades, and yet the demands on it are even greater than ever before.
They want to see all-electric vehicles in every garage. But how are we going to provide the electricity for all those cars cheaply, safely, and in time? They’ve already hamstrung the domestic oil and coal industries to the point of regulatory death. Next on the block is natural gas. For example, we haven’t built a refinery in this country in decades.
There seems to be a deliberate destruction of our ability to produce energy. Meanwhile, other countries do not suffer from such ridiculously pious nonsense.
The technology exists for safe nuclear power with little rad-waste. It could come from plants that shut themselves down without human intervention if they overheat. The plants create no greenhouse gases and the fuel, thorium, can be mined in the U. S S. And the plant has been designed, built, and proven decades ago. It’s called an LFTR, a liquid-fluoride-thorium reactor. The reason it was never widely deployed? It couldn’t be used to make materials for bombs.
We should respect what nuclear power can do when accidents happen, just as I respect electricity and stay away from downed power lines. But ask yourselves these questions: For those concerned about safety: How many people have died in the nuclear-power industry as compared to the coal industry? For environmentalists: Which source of power produces fewer greenhouse gasses: oil, coal, or nuclear? For you complaining about aging infrastructure and especially aging nuclear-power plants: Are you advocating that we should build new nuclear-power plants to replace those nearing the end of their intended use?
I seem to recall someone once saying that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Too bad no one is applying this to today’s situation in Japan and the nuclear industry as a whole. We could all do with a little less fear.
Change is your friend
The article on change in design projects (“Designs Change. Deal with It!” March 17) is one of the most valuable and informative articles I’ve read in a trade magazine in recent memory.
I work as a product R&D engineer for a manufacturer of specialty bridge products. Over the last 5 years, we’ve brought three new designs to market, added product lines, and continually improved existing products. Those in the R&D group barely have time to breathe, and design changes midstream often mean that other projects get sidelined or tossed out because of the lack of time and resources. Sadly, other companies have introduced some of these products to the market years after we sidelined them.
The most valuable information to me from the article was in the box, “Agile Software Development.” Our design team often receives e-mails from sales people with customers who want specific improvements. It is hard to accommodate even a few of the requests, let alone all of them. So I plan on forcing the sales and marketing team to pool their requests and prioritize them. Then we will have a backlog of improvements that we can tackle, working from the top.