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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 @07:04PM (#45629611)
    Nobody *does science* for fun anymore.
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:05PM (#45629619) Homepage

      There is supposed to be a big kaboom.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:09PM (#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 symbolset (646467) *
        Do you have any idea how hard it is to teach students chemistry without teaching them how to make bombs or drugs? I have a current college text and a high school one from 1950. Guess which one has more practical chemistry in it.
        • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:51AM (#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.

        • by garyebickford (222422) <`gar37bic' `at' `gmail.com'> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:50AM (#45631123)

          Indeed. Try to find a chemistry set that contains potassium permanganate and glycerin these days, much less the ingredients for gunpowder.
          We had science fair experiments in sixth grade that today would get you into the newspapers and black SUVs showing up. And going back before my time, my somewhat older neighbor built a pipe cannon back in the 1940s that fired rocks over a mile.

          But there's always the Internet, where you can find the free e-book "Ignition" by John Clark. Very funny history of liquid rocket propellants from the 1940s through to the early 1970s. Any discipline where red fuming nitric acid is considered one of the more stable, tractable ingredients is going to be interesting. (compare with Chlorine Trifluoride)

          • by runeghost (2509522) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:47AM (#45632033)

            Ah, Chlorine Trifluoride. No other description of a hideously dangerous substance makes me giggle as much as Clark's comment's on that stuff:

            "It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that's the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes."

            Obligatory captcha: hoisted

      • STEM programs are partly to blame. But there is another part.

        Playing with a technology that will eventually create massive deadly catastrophes just isn't much fun. Anyone who takes a serious look at the industry will realize that even if the French and Chinese manage to build effective recycling and millennial storage facilities, that won't make a dent in the amount of nuclear waste we have already generated. There is basically no money going toward developing the clean-up part of the cycle, so the most th

        • by Creepy (93888) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:35AM (#45631091) Journal

          Sigh... said it before, but most fourth generation designs including the one the US killed by John Kerry's ignorance burn nuclear waste as fuel. Russia continued, and their once through versions like the BN-600 burn 80% of their nuclear fuel and would burn nearly 100% if they used continuous reprocessing, but that is considered a proliferation risk. 80% - vs .5 to 5%.

          In any case, one of the primary reasons nuclear experimentation was killed off was that it was corrupt and in the pocket of reactor owners - from the NRC site itself:

          AEC to NRC

          By 1974, the AEC's regulatory programs had come under such strong attack that Congress decided to abolish the agency. Supporters and critics of nuclear power agreed that the promotional and regulatory duties of the AEC should be assigned to different agencies. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; it began operations on January 19, 1975.
          The NRC (like the AEC before it) focused its attention on several broad issues that were essential to protecting public health and safety.

          The NRC rubber stamps everything too, so not much has changed.

    • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:12PM (#45629671) Journal

      Learning is slowly being made illegal and replaced with schooling.

      Chemistry sets were effectively banned a long time ago as a side effect of the war on drugs.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:34PM (#45629781)

        Whole physics and chem books have been outlawed due to forbidden knowledge about poisons, explosives and nuclear stuff.

        I have old school books that would mark me as a terrorist nowadays.

        It's a new dark ages of science. This time not caused by the catholic pedophiles but by the anal retentive governments and a retarded zero risk fetishism society.

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

        • 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.

          You and Gordon Moore [wired.com]

          I don't know what to do except keep my passport up to date. Western civilization is slowly comitting suidice, on many fronts.

      • by westlake (615356) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:35PM (#45630105)

        Chemistry sets were effectively banned a long time ago as a side effect of the war on drugs.

        This fully funded Kickstarter project is an authentic recreation of an A C Gilbert chemistry set from the 1920s to 1940s.

        Chemical List Arranged in the order originally published by the A.C. Gilbert Company along with their item number and the 1936 pricing) [hms-beagle.com]

        Heirloom Chemistry Set [kickstarter.com]

      • by jbolden (176878) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:58PM (#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.

    • Adam and Jamie on mythbusters seem to have a blast, pun intended.

      In seriousness, I disagree. At least not to the extent of nuclear physics. Look at DIY bio research. [kickstarter.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      You got the hippy liberals who complain that you are hurting the environment or poisining the people or a shill to corporate culture.
      You got the religious nut conservatives who will complain that your ideas go against God, ethiclly wrong, part of a plot from the government to take control over the populous.
      We got Hollywood making scientists socially inept egg heads, used to fill plot holes with techno babble.
      If we try to do science at home we get arrested for doing something that may be dangerious.

  • We are in decline (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "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, tinkerer
    • by jd (1658)

      The field goes on forever. The local bits are well-mapped, sure, but the outer edges are mostly blank spaces. And beyond? Just "Here be dragons" on the charts.

      This is true for every discipline, be it science, the humanities or anything else. Schools teach kids to stay in the safe zones, where it is boring. I wouldn't call it safe, mistakes can and do kill people, but it is well-understood danger. There is no incentive amongst the beancounters to remove the dangers (it's costly, and besides, most of those ki

    • Approximate quote from a guy whose name I forget, at Siggraph 1980. He was at JPL at the time, later went to work at the newly-formed Pixar (or was it Industrial Light and Magic? I forget), got bored and went back to JPL. He was the first person I know of to create and demonstrate what he called 'inbetweening', now called morphing, used in various JPL CG videos: "Computer graphics, the industry where the technology gets better while the hair gets shorter."

      That was the same period when the Harvard computer

  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium.yahoo@com> on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:09PM (#45629649)

    It is loads of fun. Until the FBI beats down the door because you have radioactive material. Oh wait. They mean professionally.

  • by BringsApples (3418089) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:10PM (#45629653)
    Once they "perfected" the technology, and how to harness the power, why would there still be as many "developers? That's the whole point of developing, isn't it, to maintain a steady efficient process by which power can be "cheaply" bought?

    Of course there should still be fine-tuning of the process, but the man-power needed has been quite reduced.
    • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:18PM (#45629695)

      There's still one nuclear reactor technology they haven't actually scaled up yet: the molten-salt reactor, where the nuclear fuel is dissolved in molten fluoride salts. Alvin Weinberg's experimental reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was only a small 5 MW unit that actually ran successfully but was shelved because it couldn't produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

      I'd like to see someone scale up MSR technology as a technology demonstrator to prove it can work to generate large amounts of electricity, at least in the 85 to 100 MW range. If they can do that, that could mean we can get far safer nuclear power plants, especially since shutting down the reactor is very easy to do (just drain the liquid nuclear fuel from the reactor) and it only generates a very small amount of radioactive waste, waste that has a radioactive half-life of around 300 years.

      • especially since shutting down the reactor is very easy to do (just drain the liquid nuclear fuel from the reactor)

        But is that actually easy to do?
        Is that something that can be reliably done if there was an earthquake? If the pumps were damaged?

        If it's trivial, even in the most extraordinary circumstances, by all means go for it. But practical safety matters more than theoretical safety.

        • by LWATCDR (28044) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:55PM (#45629863) Homepage Journal

          Yes.
          The design uses a "salt" plug that is cooled. Cooling shuts off the plug melts and the fuel drains into a tank that lacks a moderator so the reaction stops. There is no water to boil and fuel is already melted. It will then cool and solidifies.

          As long as you have gravity then you are good. Now if all of a sudden gravity stops working then we have much bigger problems.

        • The LFTR [wikipedia.org] (and other MSR's [wikipedia.org]) are passively safe. You can shut down all the cooling pumps, etc. and it will not be a hazard. Had these been the reactors used at Fukushima, there would have been no problem. Also, LFTR's can be air-cooled. Without the need for cooling water there is no reason to build these things near vulnerable coastlines. It would also avoid a lot of site selection and thermal pollution issues. Maybe we should build reactors out in the desert, but where are you going to get the cooling water?

          • by Sique (173459)
            There are many more passively safe designs. The reactor at one of the universities I was inscribed had pellets made from vinyl mixed with fissionable material in a certain ratio. Whenever the reactor overheated, the thermal expansion of the hot vinyl pellets made the reactor sub-critical, and it shot itself down.

            Sadly though, this reactor had a designed power output of 3 Watts, while the whole thing was about 30 meters high and had 3.5 meters in diameter.

          • You typically need cooling water to efficiently generate electricity, no matter what source of heat is used to drive the boilers. You have to be able to condense the steam coming from the turbines to create a near vacuum, which requires a vast heat sink. That's why coal-fired stations are also often put next to rivers or lakes.

      • by nojayuk (567177) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:54PM (#45629855)

        The molten-salt reactor could have produced weapons-grade plutonium (just add U-238 and continuously extract Pu-239 from the molten salt flow) but by the time it was up and running the US had as much plutonium as it wanted or needed for its thousands of in-service nuclear warheads, created in purpose-built breeder reactors running in Hanford and elsewhere in the 50s and early 60s.

        As for "just drain(ing) the liquid nuclear fuel from the reactor" then what? How do you clean it up afterwards? You can't just leave it there. Mop and buckets, or a big sponge?

        Going back to the original article there are some fun things folks have been doing recently with experimental reactors but the usual result has been expensive messes that are difficult to clean up afterwards. Commercial breeder reactors, for example, most of which have been shut down as either uneconomic or easily broken (or both). Gas-cooled pebble-bed designs; the Germans are still waiting for the radioactivity in their one to decay sufficiently so they can finally defuel it, including all the bits of fuel pebbles that fractured and jammed the mechanisms. It's been 25 years now and counting. Gas-cooled graphite-moderated son-of-Magnox designs like the British AGRs have high thermal efficiency but fuel is cheap and they were expensive to build and operate so the extra efficiency didn't help them proliferate in the world markets. We'll pass quickly over the RMBK-4 graphite moderator designs... CANDUs are doing quite well in some markets but they're expensive for the amount of generating capacity they provide and heavy water reactors present all sorts of proliferation risks. The Russians are doing some interesting things with compact fast-spectrum reactors which have very high burnup rates, effectively closed-cycle breeders with a possible sideline in isotopic waste destruction but they are very very experimental -- liquid sodium coolant, say no more.

      • it couldn't produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

        That sounds more like a feature than a bug.

    • But the technology hasn't been perfected yet! (I can tell because it's almost 30 years since Back to the Future and I still can't buy any plutonium at the corner drugstore.)

      • Arrrgh! That's what Dr. Brown thought in 1955! Watch the rest of the movie. By 1985 he knew that you'd have to obtain it from other sources. By 2015 you could just buy a Mr. Fusion. As little over two years tops (worst case being the end of 2015) and we'll be set - at least so long as we can maintain an adequate supply of banana peels.

    • by tchdab1 (164848)

      But the technology hasn't been "perfected" yet, of course. Using terrorist-target fuels and generating kilo-year-toxic waste really kills the attraction. So much so that you need military-grade oversight and liability limited by law in order to enable it. Somehow though, this is considered acceptable, and the industry is stuck there.

    • by jonwil (467024)

      Nuclear power is by no means "perfected", there are reactors using fuels other than uranium, molten salt reactors, pebble bed reactors and all kinds of other reactors that have thus far either existed only as tiny demonstration plants (and, if they are any good, need to be improved so they can be used at full scale for electricity generation) or as plans in a lab somewhere (in which case they need to be tried out as experiments to see if they work)

      Not to mention designs like breeder reactors and fuel reproc

      • by Sique (173459)
        And how do you make sure that no one of the guys with the really big guns is in league with the enemy? Basicly your idea of safe containment of dangerous materials is to surround it with dangerous people. Doesn't seem to be a good idea in the long run.
        • by jonwil (467024)

          Its no different to how they store weapons grade material in the military, one assumes that the question of how to store nuclear weapons and weapons grade material is a solved one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Uecker (1842596)
        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 pr
  • by theodp (442580) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:11PM (#45629665)

    Taylor Wilson [time.com]: "At 14, Taylor Wilson became the youngest person ever to build a working nuclear fission reactor-and he did it in his parents' garage. Since then, Wilson has invented a low-cost radiation detector for use in counterterrorism, conducted research on medical isotopes for cancer treatment and become one of the foremost proponents of using nuclear power to safely meet the world's energy needs." Taylor's Nuke Site [sciradioactive.com]

    • Not real research (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Okian Warrior (537106)

      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 [wordpress.com] 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 [wikipedia.org] 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?

      • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@@@justconnected...net> on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:19PM (#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.

        • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:48PM (#45630147)

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

          -- Lord Kelvin, 1900

          • Lord Kelvin, 1900

            Except that the guy isn't saying that: he's saying that the low hanging fruit has gone. There's certainly fruit way up in the tree, but it's much harder to find.

        • 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.

          (Yes, I was being sarcastic)

          I strongly disagree. I've read many scientific papers which are nothing more than refinements of manufacturing technique, and I've seen lots of innovative ideas posted on blog sites by people who try things out, simply because they don't know any reason why it won't work.

          I'm all about bolstering arguments with examples, so let's examine chemistry.

          Chemistry has lots of underlying theory and calculations, but whenever I read chemistry papers I'm still astonished by effects and beha

    • by rubycodez (864176) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:39PM (#45629805)

      no, he did not make a fission reactor. he made a fusor with a variation on design that many other people have done. which is impressive but not relevant to this article of fission reactors

  • It's a mature technology, and once the newness wore off, it's not a very sexy one. Most research reactors (including the ones at both the Universities I attended) are basically just big tubs of water. And further, they can't really "do" anything.

    Who needs a hobby that'll bring the cops, battering down your door? [cnet.co.uk]

    But if you must build one, check out page 31 [chrispennello.com]
    • by dj245 (732906)

      It's a mature technology, and once the newness wore off, it's not a very sexy one. Most research reactors (including the ones at both the Universities I attended) are basically just big tubs of water. And further, they can't really "do" anything.

      I like it that way. Keeps out the riffraff looking for a quick path to a good salary. Look at what happened to IT (90's boom) and more recently Lawyers in the US. There is also a glut of accountants but the tax code gets bigger every year so that isn't a problem- yet.

  • the field needs to be infused with the same entrepreneurial spirit that Scientists are not entrepreneurial. Accountants and managers can be. Per your premiss, " The accountants and managers decided that it was not cost effective to let bright people play with weird reactors.", the field needs to be infused with scientific spirit.

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

    • by dj245 (732906)

      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.

      Involving accountants and lawyers in the process of building power plants is a necessity. Even if you ARE Bill Gates, you can't just go down to the bank and ask for 2 Billion dollars to build a power plant. They want; they HAVE to see your business plan, your financial calculations, guarantees from the grid operator that they will purchase your power, etc. They require you to set up all of your contracts to buy boilers, turbines, and cooling systems with airtight contracts. We signed a contract to sell

  • Innovation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:25PM (#45629743)

    It was a technology whose development was dictated by a few prominent government and military officials and large organizations...

    Funny how patent reform took so long because of that exact description of the individuals involved, and how copyright mutated from being a public service to a industrial weapon to be used on one's business enemies. And all in the name of innovation. And now here we stand again, wondering why America can't innovate, why China is catching up and kicking our ass in more and more areas every year, and yet the thought never occurs: Maybe we need to burn the mansions to the ground, round up and execute the lawyers, and redistribute the wealth so that America returns its promise of the American Dream to its people, now long-held in forced captivity out of fear of terrorists, foreign powers, domestic powers, and in fact every fear to be popularized has been met with the exact same response: Giving the wealthy more money.

    We've dug our own graves. Either we lay down in it in dignified prose, or we throw the people who demanded we dig down those holes instead. But don't think for a second this is a problem unique to the nuclear industry.

    Show me someone building an airplane. Oh sorry, you need an FAA license for that... and they're talking about even taking away our toy airplanes because they can be turned into drones. How about a rocket? Ha ha, here's a form from the BATF for your background check to own "personal explosive devices". Flying car? Forget it... you can't even build a regular car in your garage now without running afoul of regulations. The only Big Thing to come out of this country in the last forty years that Joe Average had any hope of penetrating this hopelessly dense bureaucracy was the internet... and look how quickly patent and copyright law mutated to repress any attempt at innovation there. Now we're weaving digital restrictions into the very fabric of the network, building in kill switches, and militarizing it.

    You want a solution? I got one: Round up all the rich people, shove them in trains, and ship them to concentration camps, and don't let them leave until every penny has been squeezed out of them. Yeah, it's the same thing the Nazis did. Yeah, I'm going there. Because they did manage to do one thing for Germany: It got them out from under the foot of other countries who were sucking their economy dry from WWI and preventing any industrialization. And then Hitler came along and he gave Germany everything he promised: A strong economy, everyone back to work, and independence. Of course, there was a catch...

    But I welcome anyone to put a serious alternative on the table for how you can combat wealth inequity on a scale not seen since the industrialization of this country, and at current rates in a few decades will have us sliding backwards into wealth inequity rates not seen since the Dark Ages. I can think of precious few examples in human history where the poor numbered so many and the rich, through peaceful means, gave up their wealth. It is, traditionally, a very bloody affair.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      I can think of precious few examples in human history where the poor numbered so many and the rich, through peaceful means, gave up their wealth. It is, traditionally, a very bloody affair.

      Well that is the cost of apathy. At least the US is safe even if it is insecure. Benjamin Franklin would be proud.

    • You want a solution?

      In one of the universes in Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat novels, everyone convicted of a violent or harmful crime (there are no non-crimes like drugs offences) is either rehabilitated or sent to "Hell". Hell is simply a large area with a force field around it, and in it the criminals or others are free to do as they wish.

      I like the idea of doing that. The rich and powerful could then live by their own predatory instincts without constriction, completely unable to harm the rest of us.

      What's so frus

    • > Show me someone building an airplane

      Visit the Experimental Aircraft Association. There's a thriving community doing just that.

    • Show me someone building an airplane. Oh sorry, you need an FAA license for that...

      Check out the Experimental Aircraft Association. Visit the Oshkosh Fly-In. [airventure.org] FAA regulations on experimental aircraft are quite lenient. You can't carry passengers or fly over heavily populated areas, which is reasonable enough. For flight test, there's the Mojave Air and Space Port. "My job is to give people permission. Every day in the skies over Mojave and on the ground at Mojave Air & Space Port, people take enormous risks, which someday will yield great things for all humanity." -- Stuart Witt, CEO,

    • What's really sad is that the wealthy don't even have to give up their wealth. Lower classes with more money will lift the wealthy up to dizzyingly new heights. The wealthy GOT RICH on the shoulders of the middle and low classes! If the middle/low class have got no money, who's going to buy the products of the rich?

      If the rich had an ounce of foresight and half a brain cell, they'd be doing what Henry Ford did--paying his workers MORE than the average wage so they could buy his stuff. A horde of pennile

      • by femtobyte (710429) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @11:42PM (#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.

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

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

    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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      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?

  • write up a business plan based on your design and go find some investors and a place to build the reactor. maybe start by building it in your backyard so that if an accident happens you only kill your family

  • ...it must be their nuclear program.

  • there are some impressive generation III+ and IV reactor designs, and other smarter countries than the USA are pursuing them though the designs done in USA

  • by macpacheco (1764378) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @07:58PM (#45629883)

    It's interesting the bait model employed today by GE and Westinghouse.
    They sell reactors at essentially cost price, then overcharge for the nuclear fuel.
    They have zero interest in reactors that use liquid fuel, since there's almost no money to be made in the fuel.
    Specially reactors that can run on cheap thorium (LFTR-Salt cooled), waste from water nuclear reactors, plutonium (IFR-Sodium cooled).
    If they have something interesting, they are waiting for a big govt handout to actually start it (GE-Hitachi S-PRISM).

    And govt aren't helping either... S-PRISM promisses to extract 100x more energy from uranium than water cooled/moderated reactors, theoretically they're also a solution to the nuclear waste storage problem. But if it really were that great (with no hidden catch), then why shouldn't GE take one or two billion out of their huge cash reserves and make it happen quickly ?

    That's the final point, those huge corporations always have some hidden poop hidden in the thing. Like the true cost of water nuclear plants considering there's no standardized nuclear fuel market (GE fuel can't be used in Westinghouse plants and vice-versa).

    • S-PRISM is sodium cooled. Maybe that's the hidden poop. A great choice for a reactor coolant is obviously one that reacts violently with water, and for good measure produces hydrogen in the process.

  • We're having fun in Vermont and people in our town are convinced we're building a nuclear reactor up here on Sugar Mountain... I try not to straighten out the rumor mill. Besides, we're almost done.

    http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2009/11/01/outer-wall-forms-up/ [sugarmtnfarm.com]

    http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2011/08/25/three-phase-power/comment-page-1/#comment-9690 [sugarmtnfarm.com]

  • yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:19PM (#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.

  • I suspect as any industry becomes entrenched, it destroys competition.
    Apparently the Koch Bros are still pissed at what Carnegie did to their father who came up with a more cost-effective way of refining petroleum and then was locked out of the market.
  • An excellent and inspiring article from a versatile and eloquent organic and computational chemist [fieldofscience.com] and it is delightful to see fun mentioned in the annals of the stuffy Nobel-folk. Fun hardly ever survives the peer review process these days.

    But. From TA,

    An early design invented by Admiral Hyman Rickover -- suitable for submarines but hardly optimal for efficient land-based power stations -- was frozen and applied to hundreds of reactors around the country.

    Oh yes oh best beloved, Admiral Rickover was the Father of the light water reactor, the Naval taskmaster who imperiled his military career to apply direct agitation to his superiors -- on the idea that a nuclear reactor might some day power great submarine

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:54PM (#45630443) Homepage

    Most alternative reactor designs have some major flaw. Sodium reactors have sodium fires. Pebble-bed reactors have pebble jams. (An experimental one in Germany is such a mess there's no way to fully decommission it.) Helium gas-cooled reactors leak helium. (Fort St. Vrain was converted from nuclear to natural gas because of that.) One of the painful lessons of long-life nuclear power plants is that what goes on inside the reactor vessel has to be really, really simple. Anything complex in there will break. It's being shot full of holes at the atomic level, after all. (See "hydrogen embrittlement").

    Pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors at least have only water to deal with. The fuel rods are solid rods. The thing is basically simple, although the plumbing gets insanely complex. Even then, big accidents have happened.

    Some of the fancier reactor designs require an associated chemical plant to reprocess the materials. This is a pain if you're in the power generation business, and a source of leaks and risks.

  • by darenw (74015) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:21AM (#45630909) Homepage Journal

    Problem solved - just resume production of these:
    Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
    http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/atomictoys/GilbertU238Lab.htm [orau.org]

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