Joshua Holland at AlterNet has posted a thought and comment provoking article titled Bush’s Nuclear Madness in which he postulates that the only reason that nuclear power is making a comeback in the public eye is that there has been a focused, long term effort by a shadowy group of industry lobbyists making key political contributions to the evil Bush administration.
I find the concept rather laughable, but I added a comment to the active discussion anyway. Here it is:
Though there are many individual assertions in Joshua’s article that are inaccurate, what I want to challenge is the overall impression provided that the inevitable nuclear renaissance is just the product of intense lobbying by an industry cabal.
Early in my Navy career, I spent about a dozen years learning (often it seemed to be at the end of a fire hose) intricate details about a technology that is clean enough to run inside a submarine. Not only that, but it is powerful enough so that a single fuel charge, with a mass of active material that is roughly my own body mass, propelled my 9000 ton vessel for more than 14 years. The nuclear power plant inside that vessel was durable, sailor proof, and functioned without an excessive amount of intervention. Sure the job was complex and required hard work, but many of the requirements that added to our work hours were the double, triple and quadruple checking that we did.
After that intensive period of learning, I left the Navy convinced that I had learned something very valuable, particularly in a world where some of my closest friends were going off to risk their lives in tanker escort duty and actual battle to protect Saudi oil fields (I initially left active duty in 1993.)
I had done some independent research (not part of any cabal or even funded with any government money) and developed what I judged to be a logical next step in the development of a VERY new technology. (The basic physical process of fission was only discovered in a laboratory in 1938-39, several years after my very active mother was born.)
For the past 13 years I have been working diligently, if intermittently, to bring that development to fruition. Part of my efforts have included public information activities, often in cooperation with other dedicated, independent thinkers. For the most part, our efforts to share our passion for nuclear energy have not be well received by leaders of what some people would call the nuclear industry.
They have often counseled us to act more quietly; some of them have been quite concerned that any efforts to tell the world how good nuclear energy is would harm their other businesses – oil, coal, gas, wind, and solar. You see, most of the companies mentioned in Joshua’s article are an ENERGY companies with long histories of government supported endeavors. They love big projects – it does not matter much to them what the fuel is or even if there is any fuel involved at all. (For example, GE – one of Joshua’s villains – is the largest wind energy supplier in the US.)
I have no love for the management at large, well established energy/government contracting companies run by lawyers, accountants and MBAs.
I wish that the nuclear industry was led by more independent thinkers that had deep understanding of the incredible potential gift that has been bestowed on the Earth and its people in the form of uranium and thorium, the raw materials that contain 2-5 million times as much energy per unit mass as available alternatives.
That is not the case, however, so I will learn to live with the big boys and try my best to keep working to convince them that nuclear power is far, far better than the fossil alternatives. I would also hope that a few of the critical thinkers that read AlterNet realize that there are dedicated, intelligent individuals who have plenty of other choices of careers who feel the same way that I do about the benefits of learning atomic physics and engineering so that we can help employ it in the safest possible way.
Even with focused opposition, nuclear power now provides about 50% more useful energy to the world’s people each day than Saudi Arabia and has the potential for so much more. Criticize if you must, but learn all you can.
By the way, I love many lawyers, accountants and MBA’s. My point was that technology companies need leadership that has a deep understanding of the technology as well as business and that a desire to use technology to maximum advantage sometimes does not make immediate business sense.