During President Obama’s February 12, 2013 State of the Union address, he spoke for six and a half minutes about the importance of energy to the American economy and the importance of being a world leading supplier of clean energy technology.
As a proud contributor at an American clean energy company that is developing a new product that is going to help reshape the energy industry, it felt good to hear the President describe the national level impact of the work we are doing every day. I was, however, slightly disappointed that the President failed to mention our project and failed to say a single word about my favorite clean energy source.
I’m sure it was just an oversight and that his speech would have included the ‘N’ word if he had just had a little more time to think about what he wanted to say. Perhaps he wanted to say something about nuclear energy, but just did not have any more time to allot after he had spent so much of his speech extolling the virtues of a “nearly 100 year” supply of natural gas – which will actually last a little less than 90 years as long as we do not increase our current consumption rate.
His speechwriters must have forgotten to include the line that would have described how the USA has uranium and thorium resources that might provide several hundred thousand years of emission free power, even if use of those heavy metals grows to supply ALL of our energy needs.
I apologize for the snarky tone, but it can be a bit discouraging at times to be a nuke. I often feel like the smart kid in the back of the room who has correctly answered so many questions that the teacher refuses to call on him because she wants the other students to get a chance. That’s okay in a classroom setting where there is a goal for all to learn, but it is a silly way to run a marketplace. Some energy products – like wind turbines and solar panels – are inherently inferior. They are less reliable and less useful than fuels like hydrocarbons and heavy metals; they do not deserve continued investments from the taxpayers.
I’d like to repurpose a comment that I posted earlier in response to someone who thinks there is an energy source somewhere that we have not yet discovered that can beat both nuclear energy and hydrocarbons in the market for clean, reliable, affordable, acceptably safe energy.
Pretend I am from Missouri. Stop pointing to academic studies and models created by “many fine people.” Show me a place anywhere in the world that provides an example of a reasonably large body of people who are living in a style even remotely close to the American middle class suburban lifestyle that I have enjoyed throughout my life while depending on an energy source other than hydrocarbons, nuclear energy or large hydroelectric dams for the lion’s share of the power they use in their daily lives.
Whenever your references include a strong dependence on people like Mark Z. Jacobson you will eventually find out that you are on the wrong technical path. He is an unreliable charlatan when it comes to real world energy production.
You keep telling us here that you care about people who struggle to make ends meet, yet you also claim that your favored energy sources cannot compete because fossil fuels are too cheap. You then claim that nuclear is losing in the market because its cost seems too high.
I refuse to play the energy game by your rules or the rules that have been imposed by the establishment. In my analysis, hydrocarbon fuel sources are far too expensive. They are moving farther and farther out of the reach of the people who need them the most to lift themselves out of dire poverty. It is time for the Kobayashi Maru solution to a game that has been programmed to force nuclear energy off of the list of available options.
The standard that you have implicitly applied to natural gas is a pretty good one to apply to nuclear energy; as long as an energy source is substantially better (cleaner, safer, etc) than our existing coal power plants, then it is worth developing and improving.
Nuclear energy met that standard almost as soon as the self-sustaining chain reaction was discovered. Within 13 years after the historic operation of Fermi’s CP-1 demonstration, Rickover’s USS Nautilus reported that it was underway on nuclear power. That ship dramatically showed the world that the atom had tremendous potential for clean, reliable power, even in the most challenging possible application – a sealed submarine under a deep ocean. Within a couple of years after its launch, the USS Nautilus made a trip from Hawaii to the UK by way of the North Pole. The Shippingport reactor started providing commercial quantities of electricity on the fifteen year anniversary of the successful demonstration at CP-1, despite the disadvantage of 13 years worth of strict secrecy about the technology.
In reaction to the proven potential for nuclear energy to take markets away from fossil fuels, fission energy’s hydrocarbon competitors teamed up with vendors and construction contractors who learned about cost control from their experiences in the military industrial complex. They developed a government regulatory agency influenced by scientists who felt that they were guilty of original sin because of their involvement with The Bomb. That coalition of common interests developed designs and processes that elevated the cost of nuclear energy (and the revenue from building the plants) to its currently uncompetitive level. Many scientists and some engineers kept going along with the program because it led to a reasonably steady flow of research dollars for an unachievable goal of perfect safety.
There is no need to tighten nuclear energy regulations; far from it. There is a crying need to relax prescriptive regulations, to encourage real quality assurance programs adapted from industries like commercial aviation, automobiles, and shipbuilding that seek to improve results at ever lower costs by reducing wasteful rework, and to allow nuclear fission’s inherent energy density advantage to drive DOWN the cost of energy.
Making energy cheap will force hydrocarbons to become cheap again. It will protect the very places where you prefer to camp and kayak; oil and gas companies will stop trying to extract resources from the Arctic, the deep ocean, the tar sands and the mountains of North Dakota because those places contain large quantities of high production cost resources that could not compete in a market of abundant fission energy.
Disclaimer: Though I work for The Babcock & Wilcox Company on the B&W mPowerTM Reactor project, I do not speak for the company. My thoughts on Atomic Insights are strictly my personal views and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of my employer.