I’ve spent a fair amount of time during the past few days trying to convince people who promote only certain types of nuclear fission technologies that they are engaging in the wrong battle. They are failing to recognize that all forms of fission take advantage of the incredible energy density found in atomic nuclei to produce emission free, reliable heat. They do not recognize that fission heat that can compete in the reliable energy market against heat produced by burning fossil fuel.
It is a key enabler of progress for human society to recognize that nuclear fission is the new fire; it is the only available power source capable of reducing the market share and political dominance currently held by fossil fuel suppliers.
Unfortunately, many people who recognize that fission is better than combustion are wasting valuable time and political capital by engaging in internecine battles against other fission technologies. There are those who thing that liquid fueled reactors that convert Th-232 into fissile U-233 are “da bomb”, those who are sure that the Integral Fast Reactor will enable us to achieve the dream of unlimited energy, and those who want to take advantage of 50 years worth of knowledge and physical infrastructure to build improved light water reactors. There are fans of high temperature helium cooled reactors, liquid metal cooled reactors, heavy water cooled reactors, and supercritical CO2 cooled reactors.
For some odd reason, too many of them are not spending enough time looking outward at the 85% of the current energy market that is currently supplied by burning fossil fuel and instead think it is worth their time to argue about which single fission technology will best address the FUD that has been thrown at all nuclear energy development during the past 50 years.
Here are some of the thoughts I have tried to share in several different conversation threads.
The people who stand to lose the most if nuclear succeeds are the people that currently control the world’s coal, oil and natural gas markets. No matter what fission system(s) you like, they will ALWAYS be targets of misinformation generated by people who do not want humans to have access to unlimited supplies of power. (It is hard to dominate markets where there are unlimited alternatives and difficult to extract obscene profits from a commodity industry where supply is always greater than demand.)
Used nuclear fuel is not a waste product worth expenditure of huge sums of money for permanent disposal; it is a potentially valuable resource that should be carefully stored in accessible locations for the use of future generations who will be smarter than we are. If there are certain parts of the byproduct stream that everyone agrees have no utility, the US already has an adequate geologic disposal site in operation to handle them. If that is not good enough, Rip Anderson and his team proved that deep sea disposal is capacious and safe.
The world has too many nuclear weapons; more of them should be converted into fuel for nuclear energy production. That said, there is little utility in forcing nuclear energy development to be saddled with huge additional security-related costs to discourage more countries from having the capability of building weapons.
The important activity is to work to establish conditions that discourage everyone in every country from USING nuclear weapons. Weapons in bunkers may be a significant waste of resources, but at least they do not hurt anyone. In my opinion, most actions promoted under the guise of “non-proliferation” are actually efforts to increase the cost of nuclear energy to make it less competitive so it has less opportunity to capture markets from fossil fuel.
During one of my conversations we brainstormed a few bumper sticker ideas that I thought would be fun to share more widely. As you may be able to tell, the correspondent who was brainstorming with me is one of the people I am trying to gently turn to fighting for fission instead of battling against particular forms of fission.
Here is my favorite of the stickers we developed:
Here is another one that provides the general message I think we should be uniting behind:
And here is one of Mike’s favorites that misses the point that there are three superfuels, not just one.
But it’s all good. I am confident that the passion that infuses people who like only thorium or only integral fast reactors will eventually be converted into a more general support for all types of fission.
Update (9:13 am Aug 26, 2012) Here are some ideas inspired by this post’s comment thread:
How about this one:
This one is supposed to provoke a questioning attitude and some self criticism among antinuclear activists.
And here is one that you can have sent to you from my already existing collection – just use the site contact link to email me and provide your mailing address: