Unlike Steven and a number of other writers who have written about nuclear power economics, I have a direct and significant interest in getting atomic power cost numbers right. In 1991, I started delving deeply into energy delivery system economics. By 1993, I had convinced myself and a few very patient investors that forming a company to design and market uranium fueled engines would be a decent way to make a living. There have been many unforseen bumbs in the journey, but Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. is still working diligently toward our long term goal.
I have no plans to release our detailed numbers and assumptions to the public, but I can try to share a little of our logic and the reasons why we are really excited about our future.
First of all, averaging can obscure the cost of almost any complex manufactured or constructed product. Just think about your own personal experiences – does it matter to you what the “average” cost of the automobiles in your town or are you much more concerned about how much your own car costs to purchase and operate? How about homes? Does the value of your small bungalow quadruple if the average sale price of new homes in your small town quadruples one year because a developer comes in and builds a dozen new mini-mansions on some nice acreage outside of town? In other words, what matters for any given project is specifics, not averages.
We believe that we have designed a system that can be produced in a series fashion so that it can take advantage of the same kind of scale economies that enable the prices of manufactured goods to drop on a rather predictable scale for a number of years after their initial introduction. We will never approach the market volumes of DVD players or even automobiles, but we do believe that we can approach the volume found in the markets for locomotives, large diesel engines, and jet aircraft.
We also do not plan to compete against coal fired power plants built next to economical fuel sources, so do not expect to find Adams Engines in Wyoming or next to established freight routes that have excess carrying capacity. We also are pretty sure that our systems are not well suited for competing against 20-30 year old nuclear steam plants that have been well maintained or against hydroelectric dams built by the WPA.
Adams Engines, however, should do quite well in places where the main fuel source is petroleum. Our early adopters will be in locations where even that fuel source is priced two to ten times the “average” market price because of transportation difficulties. In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, nuclear fission has the advantage of a fuel source that is about 2 million times as energy dense as oil. The fuel supply problem that plagues so many remote areas becomes a rather small issue when it is possible to carry a few decades worth of fuel for a moderately sized power plant on board a single helicopter.
Of course, fuel is not the only part of an energy supply system, but the vast majority of the weight needed for a fully shielded and operating plant can be obtained amost anywhere since it is normally simple shapes of concrete, lead, steel, or even water.
Adams Engines have also been designed from the beginning as a marine power plants. Both Gulian Cromelin of ROMAWA, one of our long time design partners, and I learned our trade as ship propulsion engineers, so we have a pretty fair understanding of the challenging maritime environment.
A great deal of care has been invested to ensure that the designs are strong, simple and resistant to the effects of stormy weather on ships and to the possibility of collisions. We have even made provisions for plant safety and continued operation in the case of direct attack. Plants designed to these standards will have no worries when it comes to the tiny amount of shaking that can occur with earthquakes.
Many statements have been made since 9-11 about the security of nuclear power plants, even though they are, without a doubt, some of the strongest and best protected industrial facilities on Earth. Even some of my ardent fans have asked me how we can possibly secure our smaller plants enough to satisfy the critics.
As I have explained in a number of posts over the years on Atomic Insights, on this blog, and in web forums dating back to USENET posts in the early 1990s – there are people that have built profitable careers based solely on opposition to nuclear power. We know that we will never be able to satisfy everyone, but when it comes to Adams Engine security here are some of our thoughts and responses.
- Though the plants will be extremely small compared to conventional nuclear plants, even the smallest will weigh several tons and will not move without some special equipment.
- Since the engines need only cooling and a way for the electricity to get out, they will be completely enclosed in a shield that has a lot in common with a high security bank vault.
- With reasonably modern technology, it will be simple to ensure that the location of even the mobile units is well known and tracked.
- In places where security is even less assured, the plants can be installed underground.
I am confident that Adams Engines will find a home in many markets, but I am equally confident that a number of other nuclear plant designs will be extremely competitive and successful in their chosen markets. The keys will be excellent detailed design work, attention to detail, effective project management, proper market selection, and good communications plans.