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Power Science

Nobody Builds Reactors For Fun Anymore 326

Posted by Soulskill
from the try-turning-it-into-an-MMO dept.
stox tips an article from Nobel Week Dialogue about the biggest problem of the nuclear power industry: it's not fun anymore. The author, Ashutosh Jogalekar, expands upon this quote from Freeman Dyson: "The fundamental problem of the nuclear industry is not reactor safety, not waste disposal, not the dangers of nuclear proliferation, real though all these problems are. The fundamental problem of the industry is that nobody any longer has any fun building reactors. Sometime between 1960 and 1970 the fun went out of the business. The adventurers, the experimenters, the inventors, were driven out, and the accountants and managers took control. The accountants and managers decided that it was not cost effective to let bright people play with weird reactors." Jogalekar adds, "For any technological development to be possible, the technology needs to drive itself with the fuel of Darwinian innovation. It needs to generate all possible ideas – including the weird ones – and then fish out the best while ruthlessly weeding out the worst. ... Nothing like this happened with nuclear power. It was a technology whose development was dictated by a few prominent government and military officials and large organizations and straitjacketed within narrow constraints. ... The result was that the field remained both scientifically narrow and expensive. Even today there are only a handful of companies building and operating most of the world's reactors. To reinvigorate the promise of nuclear power to provide cheap energy to the world and combat climate change, the field needs to be infused with the same entrepreneurial spirit that pervaded the TRIGA design team and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs."
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Nobody Builds Reactors For Fun Anymore

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  • by tanujt (1909206) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:04PM (#45629611)
    Nobody *does science* for fun anymore.
  • We are in decline (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:05PM (#45629617)
    "fun" is when a field is so new that the people working in it aren't jaded professionals. Once all is understood, this type of people is not desired in industry or government. You simply distill out the essence of the field, get the textbook companies to start selling the same information in different yearly editions and crank up the university system to create "information regurgitators". Then these people hire other zombies of the same ilk and there you go, in a few years you went from hobbyists, tinkerers and thinkers to "professional engineers" who work in little pre-fabricated silos and take their orders from MBAs and accountants who are in bed with the goverment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:09PM (#45629637)

    How can they? Our STEM programs today like to drain all the creativity from their students. They're all aimed at creating lab drones who dream of being in charge. No one dreams of discovery anymore.

    Yes, priorities are truly fucked nowadays. A Nobel to these folks is the ultimate line on a resume. Not a sign that they may have played some roll in the advancement of humankind.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:24PM (#45629739)

    You've just hit on the major problem with ALL corporations today. They are run by accountants, attorneys, HR, and pussy managers that bow to their control. When is the last time someone was hired without their involvement? 1930? This is why nothing can get done anymore. A bunch of peon wannabes in one of those departments think they run the show. It's high time CEOs, boards of directors, and other higher ups grow a pair, that includes you ladies, and tell these people, "NO, this is what we are going to do, NO we need to hire this person right now, not next month, now!" You can be diplomatic as you want but you need to put your foot. You work for me. If you don't like it, GTFO! These people need to understand they do not run the business. Until that happens you company is doomed to failure.

  • Not real research (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Okian Warrior (537106) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:28PM (#45629755) Homepage Journal

    Since then, Wilson has [...] conducted research on medical isotopes for cancer treatment...

    As impressive as his site is, that's not real research.

    Real research [] is only done by professionals who have (or are pursuing) an advanced degree, with the backing of a university or government-funded research facility. There are no "gentleman" scientists [] any more, and there are no contemporary examples of real science done by 'regular folks.

    This issue was addressed in an article from a couple of days ago. Haven't you been listening?

  • America centric.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xtal (49134) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:36PM (#45629785) Homepage

    I expect the innovators will move on to more friendly climates. My dad taught me to never count the US out - you guys have the best of everything and the worst of everything. Nowhere else produces more nobel prize winners.. or more criminals.

    I wonder if that time is coming to an end.

    Nuclear energy is too important. Renewables are a joke. It's low quality, low density power from a thermodynamic standpoint. We're either going to burn every bit of carbon and then go nuclear, or go nuclear. Either way, we have to master this technology, and we (humans) will. The only question is what happens between now and then.

    Myself, I'm going to encourage my kids to learn Chinese. Sigh.

  • by ridgecritter (934252) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:54PM (#45629857)

    Completely agree. As a child, I learned a good deal about chemistry and explosives through DIY activities. Those childhood lessons (nobody got hurt) have gotten me some good jobs at major aerospace companies and at a space startup. A kid doing today what I did back when would be instantly jailed and put on the terr'ist list forever. Hell, I fear what would happen if DHS were to find my oxy/acetylene welding set in my home shop. Our increasingly Draconian restrictions are fencing off ever more sources of inspiration and creativity.

  • On whose planet? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duckintheface (710137) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:58PM (#45629879)

    If the nuclear boys want to play with dangerous toys, they need to find a nice uninhabited planet to do it on. The innovation has been in wind, solar, geothermal, and even natural gas. Those guys are smart, they are having fun, and they do not destroy massive chunks of real estate.

    Read the October 1986 issue of Scientific American to see what happens when guys having fun melt down a reactor.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:59PM (#45629899)

    As a lawyer...even we are beholden to the zombie MBA plague. "If you can measure it you can manage it" isn't a way to deal with the law or run a court system, but damned if the MBAs won't attempt it anyway.

  • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:19PM (#45630017)

    I'm assuming you're being sarcastic, but the fact is that because as a species we've been systematically looking into the unknowns for a few hundred years now, there's not very much low-hanging fruit left. You do certainly hear stories about some teenager discovering something really cool, and that's great and should be encouraged and celebrated. But the fact of the matter is that most scientists (let alone the average public) won't do much more than add a tiny bit of knowledge to some very specific field. We're past the days where you could invent powered, controlled flight in a garage, in the same way the Wright brothers were past the days where you could invent calculus, and so on. Science is like a tree, and if you're lucky you might discover the next level in the tree - but the nodes are smaller.

    And that's great! The reason it's so hard to discover new things is because we know so much now, and the stuff we know we don't know requires building huge rings under Europe, or launching satellites, or building telescopes that cover entire deserts or something. Basically, we're advancing as a species. But yeah, the size of discoveries nowadays do tend to be proportional to resources.

  • yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:19PM (#45630021) Homepage Journal

    More innovation - yes. But please not the hacker spirit of Silicon Valley.

    You see, if your website is full of holes, that's bad for your company. But if your nuclear reactor is full of holes, that's bad for everyone.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:30PM (#45630077) Homepage Journal

    Renewables are a joke.

    The joke is thinking that digging up a bunch of stuff and burning it when it's not necessary is a good idea. So what if you have to make hay while the sun shines?

  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:48PM (#45630147)

    There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

    -- Lord Kelvin, 1900

  • by jbolden (176878) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:58PM (#45630199) Homepage

    It had nothing to do with the war on drugs. The shifts came from consumer protection laws. A pre WWI set is a very dangerous toy by today's standards.

  • by Uecker (1842596) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:30PM (#45630345)
    Well those better designs would need an insane amount of (goverrment) money to develop into something useful. This is the reason most of these research projects have been stopped in the past. Cost became totally out of control, while the prototypes still had lots of technical problems which made it very clear that much bigger further investments would be necessary in the future. For example, consider the history of the German AVR. It is considered a gigantic disaster. This is the problem with nuclear: In principle it looks promising, but then some problems occur. Solutions to these problems are proposed, but it gets much more expensive, then even more problems appear, ... In reality, it is huge mess and a money sink. And I think all the nuclear fanboys here on slashdot just underestimate the amount of engineering problems nuclear has by a few orders of magnitude.
  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <> on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:33PM (#45630357) Homepage

    Unless the moderator is damaged and bits of it fall into the tank, or worse still block the plug hole.

  • by myowntrueself (607117) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:04AM (#45630701)

    "Don't try this at home" isn't fun. It's merely entertainment.

    Mythbusters is to science as pro wrestling is to sport.

    Ie pro wrestling is 'sports entertainment'.

  • by femtobyte (710429) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:42AM (#45630783)

    Ford had competition: the Commies. For much of the 20th century, the potential success of communism --- that it could create a better life for the working masses than bare-knuckle capitalist exploitation --- provided a major policy influence on the capitalist elite. Along Ford's logic, the working masses needed to be kept happy with a rising standard of living to maintain support for a "benevolent oligarchy" against radical demands for social justice and equality. However, with the collapse of the USSR into another feudal oligarchy, it's easier to push the "there is no alternative" capitalist propaganda line while quality of life declines under later capitalism (less pressured to compete against alternate social forms). Now, you see the wholesale looting of the middle and working classes, as all the gains made over the past century are clawed back by the super-rich.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:51AM (#45631003)

    The high school one from the 1950s, no doubt about that. It also has the much more interesting experiments. Problem is just that you can't get 9 out of 10 chemicals you need anymore due to "safety concerns" and trying to get the tenth puts you on a no-fly list and grants you a personal visit from guys that come at 6am.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. -- John Muir