I returned from the Nuclear Energy Insider International Advanced Reactor and SMR Summit with revived energy, optimism and passion for participating in an expanding effort to smooth and straighten the tortuous path associated with producing increased quantities of clean energy from atomic fission.
The effort isn’t small, it isn’t narrowly focused, and it isn’t–by any means–limited to the United States. It is exciting, potentially paradigm busting, wide ranging and the right thing to do. I can’t think of a better investment of the time I cannot spend with my family, especially my ever-entertaining young grandchildren.
While at the event, I asked a few questions. (Some who attended might quibble with my use of the word “few.”)
One question apparently intrigued people enough that the speakers began answering it before I even had a chance to ask it. There were several versions of the question, but they all boiled down to the following, generally asked of company business and technical leaders.
Maybe this question and the answers can spread to become a meme with legs that helps the public gain a better appreciation of the nuclear energy’s proven benefits. It might help stimulate a curiosity about atomic energy’s potential to make their own lives more comfortable and prosperous while also helping human society achieve a more sustainable development path.
The idea came during a talk by Harlen Bowers, president of X-Energy, a company that Atomic Insights has covered in the past (X-Energy introduced its company and first product to Virginia chapter of ANS and Atomic Show #248 – Dr. Pete Pappano, VP Fuel Production X-Energy.
Bowers began by pointing to Elon Musk’s success in generating excitement for the Tesla 3, a car that will not even enter production for at least a year. Despite the fact that no one has seen an actual car or been able to test drive one, approximately 300,000 people have put down a $1,000 deposit to place an advanced order. Bowers stated that this show of interest provides evidence that there are people that care so much about climate change that they are willing to pay more for products that make a contribution.
Bowers talk included strong admonitions to advanced reactor companies about coming together as a community to communicate the value of their technology in terms of flexibility, siting options and as a vital contributor to the fight against climate change. He told the assembled audience that we need to be willing to take the “spears and arrows” that will be thrown our way if we put ourselves into the public spotlight to make the case of for the importance of building new nuclear power sources.
Then he said something that stimulated my question about building plants in our own backyards.
We also have actual test data that demonstrates the operational safety benefits of advanced reactor systems, but sometimes operational evidence isn’t good enough. Unfortunately, we still have people that take medical advice from Jenny McCarthy and won’t vaccinate their children. We can’t convince everyone, but the real life test data should convince the more objective stakeholders out there that it does prove our safety case.
Bowers concluded his talk as follows, “Reach out, communicate early and often and envision us as the Teslas of the nuclear industry.”
Here is the question as I first asked it. (Note: X-Energy was founded and is funded by Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, an entrepreneur whose financial resources came from prior successes in the aerospace and defense industry.)
Maybe one of the best ways to convince everybody, or almost everybody, is for Kam to buy himself a nice rural estate and put an X-Energy reactor in his backyard. Seriously, if he, or you or me or others in the industry say, “I’ll show you how confident I am. I’ll put it in my backyard. I’ll raise my children here, I’ll bring my grandchildren and show that it’s safe. We’ve seen the testing data, we understand it, but it’s hard to convince people using terms like “design basis accident” and “source term.”
What I did not say, but wish I had, is that Kam, or other industry leaders deciding to adopt this strategy should make a big splash with the announcement and sell the idea hard to neighbors by helping them understand the benefits that such a machine could provide to the whole community.
When I get more time, I will put together an audio file of some of the responses I received during the rest of day two of the summit as I asked several other company leaders, industry advocates or technical experts versions of the question.
I know it is easy to say and easy to attempt to dismiss it as the empty promise of an overly enthusiastic sales guy, but I really want to eventually power and heat my home and my community with a nearby nuclear power source. I would need a couple of cooperating neighbors as partners, but the field behind our houses might be big enough.
My ideal installation would be an Adams Engine, but the Xe-100 is reasonably close in concept and technology. There are other entries in the field of advanced small reactors that would also be acceptable as my next door neighbor.
I’ve a lot more content from the summit to share with you, but it’s getting too close to departure time for my next research trip. This one is back in my old stomping grounds in Annapolis, MD. It will be a little like deja vu all over again to sit in a Rickover Hall auditorium for the opening plenary of a Technical Meeting on Nuclear Energy and Cyber Security. This meeting is in recognition of the first Naval Academy graduating classes for the Nuclear Engineering and Cyber Security majors.
PS: After recent meetings in Washington, New York City, Atlanta and the coming meeting in Annapolis, the Atomic Insights travel account is shrinking. If you like having a vocal representative at these meetings who–eventually–provides you useful reports, please consider providing your financial support.