Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Let a Thousand Reactors Bloom



Physicists and engineers at Beijing's Tsinghua University have made the first great leap forward in a quarter century, building a new nuclear power facility that promises to be a better way to harness the atom: a pebble-bed reactor. A reactor small enough to be assembled from mass-produced parts and cheap enough for customers without billion-dollar bank accounts. A reactor whose safety is a matter of physics, not operator skill or reinforced concrete. And, for a bona fide fairy-tale ending, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is labeled hydrogen.


Well, right off the bat, the graphic rocks. This Wired magazine article caught my eye while at the doctor's office waiting to be diagnosed with a hernia (oh, joy joy!). The premise of the article is that self-contained nuclear power is possible in a way that is many times safer and much less dependent on our old albatross, oil (although the hip, now authors wouldn't be so gauche as to bring up anything passe` like oil).

Knowing what I do about alternative energy, I think the tough facts are that unless we use any and all alternatives to oil, then we will never break the yoke. Now that China is officialy among the world's oil junkies, it will only get worse. And I DO NOT want to go down the coal path or even oil shale, which is a land-destroying path we face if we go without oil.

So when I see methods to get lots of energy, I pay attention. The traditional nuclear plant is a pretty dumb idea in my opinion. Obviously, nobody calculated the warehousing and security costs of storing matter for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS. It definitely makes U-STOR-IT look pretty cheap. However, if there were a way to more effectively use nuclear material in a way that made it impossible for a radioactive explosion, I would be all for it (and to heck with the patents; GNU license that puppy...well, at least if it comes from Communist China...its the least they could do).

This article outlines such a possibility. Read it and let your mind cook in that Wired magazine kind of way.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Relatively Exact:

Hmm....
Here's a nice equation to ponder after reading that article:

(Small, home fusion reactor) + (Young genius with a hacker mentality) / (Politically and racially charged social environment) = OH, BOY.......

DewKid said...

The sooner we get away from oil, the sooner we lose our dependance on the middle east, the sooner we get our thumbs out of the cookie dough.

Mmmm cookies.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I recall a time back in my school days when a student asked a social studies teacher why we didn't just stop buying oil from OPEC, since they kept causing us so much trouble. The teacher responded by pointing out that, if we were to cut that huge economic tie to the Middle East, it would eliminate virtually all our influence over them. Even though OPEC tries to bully the U.S. by means of price hikes or production caps, the fact is that they have always needed the U.S. to remain their biggest customer. If we threatened to boycott them completely, they'd probably either roll over and expose their necks or do something really foolish, like invade Israel.

At least that's what that teacher said.

Of course, now they have the option of opening up their markets even more to China...

Don Snabulus said...

That and the fact that we were stupid enough to help Pakistan get nukes certainly complicates the situation. If we put a big, fast financial squeeze on the heart of Islam, Pakistan might "lose track" of some of its nuclear stock, quite by accident of course. I've already read that they are sharing technology with the Saudis; another potential disaster in the offing.

Of course, no one in the government or press wants to discuss the real limitations of being a superpower. Some want to bask in its glow in pride while others dream (of all stripes) of how to "use the power for good."

Anonymous said...

Gandalf:

But through them, it would work great evil.

Anonymous said...

Parade Rainer:

Don't be silly. Stop the flow of money into the middle east, and their tune would change. Even Islam needs food.

Anonymous said...

Raining Oil:

There are plenty of people who will want to soak up that plentiful oil if we leave, so we can't expect it to drain the Middle East of cash. What we can do is make it so it is not as much of a concern for us, so we can let someone else stir the hornet's nest for a while while we get our energy elsewhere (and become more efficient to make it work).

Anonymous said...

Tamphor Lei:

No, you are wrong. They might get some funds from other places, but their primary cash cow would be gone. That and the fact that other countries would follow suit, and soon the hornets would have no more honey. (do hornets make honey? ok, bad metaphor)

Anonymous said...

Oil Raining Guy:

I hope you're right. In any case, let's get off that oil wagon!

Anonymous said...

Parade-watcher with a black umbrella:

Actually, stopping America's long-standing practice of "stealing" Arab oil is one of the stated objectives of Al-Qaeda. Osama bin Hidin' (and apparently forgotten) has said as much many times.

Arab governments are keen to keep America nursing at their petroleum nipples, but the grassroots extremists would rather enforce a quick masectomy...or perhaps start charging a murderous toll for the black issue.

Anonymous said...

Pooper Scooper at the parade:

That is one cool graphic. You have to admit that.

Vulgarius said...

That model kit rocks! My kids had a ton of fun putting it together! It doesnt even need bat'ries! But lately all of the cats hair has been falling out...I wonder if it was the glue?

ElTigris said...

Funny enough ...its already been done in the USA. I have a close friend who is an engineer that had been in the Nuke plant field and he told me of another acquaitence also an engineer that was a bit of a brilliant eccentric. Before building a house he had a concrete vault installed 50 feet down. In it he had a closed cooling system. At the center of this he had a solid glass toriod (donut) a few feet across ...constructed ...and impregnated with low grade nuclear fuel. The grade wasnt high enough to cause a meltdown runaway reaction but still put out lots of heat. Im not sure if he used a heat exchanger or went the thermonic generator route used in the space probes - I would have to ask again. The end result was he had more than enough power to run his large house (in the substantial KW range) and for at least 50 years was his estimate. Everything was based on off the shelf parts and self contained. He further put on the market a "how to" kit he was going to sell for 25K to 50K list price. Once the material degraded beyond the point of usefulness ...you simply abandoned it and kept it buried where it lay. The kit was confiscated as soon as the NRC realized the portion of the parts list involved nuclear material. Funny we dont treat DU the same way when it goes into munitions.

Anonymous said...

Lasama on Biden:

Can you get that man's address?

(Yes, that's my real name. Really!)

Vulgarius said...

Thats because DU is more deadly as a heavy metal than a radiation hazard. We used to treat it with more respect. I remember someone broke the tip on around once...I ran the other direction while every one else was curious! They had to visit Dr.Glover and Dr. Swabie! EEEEEEEEYYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOIIIIEEEE!!!!!!!!

ElTigris said...

DU is still radioactive ...and its treated as a radioactive waste by the DOE. The combination of chemical and radioactive hazard is why it is been billed the cause of gulf war syndrome, and why 1000s of first gulf war vets have died from it, and the symptoms are back in the current one.

Anonymous said...

Metallica's Legal Rep:

Hey, you can't say "heavy metal" without our permission!

ElTigris said...

Well metallica I stopped considering you as a rock band when you started whining that you couldnt afford you new corporate jet within 60 days.