Though I have not yet received and read Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History, I have done enough skimming to make me suspect that it is at least partially aimed at my efforts to share information about nuclear power so that knowledge will encourage people to accept my firm belief that atomic fission is a boon to humanity, not an evil genie that needs to be stuffed back into a bottle.
I know it sounds incredibly vain (or paranoid) to believe that anyone would care enough about what I am doing to make it the inspiration for a book project, but how many other people have spent fifteen years writing about fission using the word “atomic” over “nuclear”, write with favorable passion about small reactors, authored several frequently visited stories about the Army’s Nuclear Power Program, and even wrote several historical articles about the accident at SL-1 that show up on the first page of a Google search on the topic?
Here is a early sentence in the book that makes me anxious to get it and read it thoroughly,
“The dream of miniaturized, portable plants died with McKinley, Legg, and Byrnes.”
(Atomic America page 6.)
(Aside: I really need to get that Kindle I have been wanting. If I had one, I could be halfway through the book by now. Hint?)
I am an argumentative cuss who firmly resists the notion that the dream of portable plants ever died. A well understood accident that happened nearly fifty years ago should not prevent us from moving forward with efforts to reduce the mystique and complexity of nuclear fission to the point where people can realistically consider a goal of having affordable, reliable, emission-free power available nearly everywhere on the planet. No doubt there is widespread resistance to this idea, but that is no reason to believe that it cannot be achieved as we learn and share more about how to design atomic power plants that can be acceptably safe.
It should not surprise anyone to learn that Todd Tucker, the author of Atomic America is a former Navy Nuke with a good grasp of the technical details. Some of the people who are most critical of my vision are people who were trained in the same program as I was, but they took away a much different lesson. My experience led me to believe that almost anyone can safely operate a well-designed and constructed atomic power plant that has wide margins for safety and reliability (heck, even an English major with a lot of lazy habits can become a reasonably competent operator). In contrast, some of my former colleagues came away from the program (or remain with it) with the notion that the only way to handle the task is within a tightly controlled monopoly that does things exactly as Rickover dictated.
We’ll talk more about Atomic America.