Revisiting Nuclear Power

The NY Times has an article on a growing but still small minority of environmentalists who are ready to revisit nuclear power:

Several of the nation's most prominent environmentalists have gone
public with the message that nuclear power, long taboo among
environmental advocates, should be reconsidered as a remedy for global

Their numbers are still small, but they
represent growing cracks in what had been a virtually solid wall of
opposition to nuclear power among most mainstream environmental groups.
In the past few months, articles in publications like Technology
Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and
Wired magazine have openly espoused nuclear power, angering other
environmental advocates...

In his article, Mr. Brand argued, "Everything must be done to increase
energy efficiency and decarbonize energy production." He ran down a
list of alternative technologies, like solar and wind energy, that emit
no heat-trapping gases. "But add them all up," he wrote, "and it's just
a fraction of enough." His conclusion: "The only technology ready to
fill the gap and stop the carbon-dioxide loading is nuclear power."

While I am more of a warming-skeptic than most (see here, among others), I made this same plea for reconsidering nuclear power a while back.  However, a different regulatory approach (not laxer, just different) will be required:

If aircraft construction was regulated like nuclear power plants,
there would be no aviation industry.  In the aircraft industry,
aircraft makers go through an extensive approval and testing process to
get a basic design (e.g. the 737-300) approved by the government as
safe.  Then, as long as they keep producing to this design, they can
keep making copies with minimal additional design scrutiny.  Instead,
the manufacturing process is carefully checked to make sure that it is
reliably producing aircraft to the design already deemed safe.  If
aircraft makers want to make a change to the aircraft, that change must
be approved with a fairly in-depth process.

Beyond the reduction in design cost for the 2nd airplane of a series
(and 3rd, etc.), this approach also yields strong regulatory benefits.
For example, if the
in a particular aircraft, then the government can issue a bulletin to
require a new approved design be retrofitted in all other aircraft of
this series.  This happens all the time in commercial aviation.

One can see how this might make nuclear power plant construction
viable again.  Urging major construction companies to come up with a
design that could be reused would greatly reduce the cost of design and
construction of plants.  There might still be several designs, since
competing companies would likely have  their own designs, but this same is true in aerospace with Boeing, Airbus and smaller jet manufacturers Embraer and Bombardier.

  • You might be interested to know there is a techno-thriller novel about the American nuclear power industry, written by a longtime nuclear engineer (me) that is available at at no cost to readers. This book provides an entertaining and accurate portrait of the nuclear industry today and how a nuclear accident would be handled.

    One of the environmentalists mentioned in the NY Times article above has endorsed it:

    “I'd like to see RAD DECISION widely read.” - - Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog founder, tech pioneer.)

    Discussing our energy future will be a lot easier if there is a better understanding of our energy present.

    I’d like to get more readers for this non-profit, independent project, so if you like what you see, please pass the word along.