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Power Science

Nobody Builds Reactors For Fun Anymore 326

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 BringsApples ( 3418089 ) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:10PM (#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 @08:18PM (#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.

  • Innovation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:25PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:34PM (#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 macpacheco ( 1764378 ) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:58PM (#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).

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:28PM (#45630065)

    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.


  • Re:On whose planet? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:53PM (#45630441) Homepage

    The innovation has been in wind, . . Those guys are smart, they are having fun, and they do not destroy massive chunks of real estate.

    No, they only kill eagles (with the government's blessing). I guess some may consider that fun.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 07, 2013 @11:23PM (#45630549)

    YOU! Are a part of the problem! There has been exactly 1 kind of nuclear reactor built in the last 60 years. Yes, they can go kaboom. What about the other kinds that you can't build bombs from? I'm thinking of one that is inherently safe. You might utter "but they are all unsafe" and my reply... but they were all the same (1 kind) design. How do you expect a different result when you do the same thing? The problem isn't the science, its idiots perceptions "Oh, they all blow up and spew radiation." But they are all the same. We need to build another kind that doesn't do those things. That's the point of the article. Instead of building inherently dangerous ones, we need to build inherently safe ones. Use them to power airplanes! WHAT! You cry out, what happens when it crashes?!?!? And I reply, nothing happens. It stops by itself. It doesn't make anything radioactive, it doesn't melt a hole down to the center of the earth. Someone comes along with a forklift, scoops it up, and uses it on another plane. We haven't built any like that. You haven't seen any because there haven't been any for you to see. We need more science, and less idiots freaking out.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @11:58PM (#45630687)

    Start with nearly anything along the lines of "Chemical Magic".

    I remember spending many happy hours looking through the "experiments" for making nitrogen triiodide, various preparations with white phosphorus, carbon tetrachloride-carbon disulfide mixes with the same index of refraction as glass (dump a broken glass into a tank of the stuff, REACH IN WITH YOUR HAND, and pull out a whole one -- magic!), lots of mixes with potassium chlorate and/or red phosphorus, lumps of sodium or potassium -- you get the picture. For a few brief, wonderful years, I was able to order some of these chemicals through my elementary or middle schools, and occasionally find them in some old out-of-the-way pharmacy.

    I still resent the crackdown on chemicals, but if you'd offered me-the-kid a choice between the old-school chemical buffet and today's Internet, I would've leapt for the keyboard in a heartbeat.

  • by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @02:35AM (#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 garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @02:50AM (#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 cheekyboy ( 598084 ) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @03:04AM (#45631157) Homepage Journal []

    Sounds good to me, would love to see commercial flights, non-stop, no fuel loss or weight. No more fuel taxes. Even cheaper flights.

  • Re: On whose planet? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:58AM (#45631877)

    Yeah but the issue with eating rabbit is that it lacks an essential protein for the building of heart muscle. It is ok to eat it occasionally but if you eat that as your only protein source you start getting nutritional deficiencies. Chicken does not have that issue.

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:04AM (#45631901)

    The X-.ray hafnium apparatus has been tested and it seems to be pseudo-science i.e. quackery. It was the rave like a decade ago.

    The problem with atomic reactors on airplanes has always been weight. Even when SAC was trying to use it in large bombers. Until someone develops lightweight shielding it won't happen. I do not think this is impossible. But the funding certainly seems to be scarce. The curious thing is that since the DOE took charge of reactor development from the military all development has stagnated. I think this is because the military actually has real applications in mind so they end up producing viable products unlike the DOE.

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

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