Update: (August 2, 2013) – American Atomics is now claiming that there is no site in Detroit that is large enough to house the infrastructure that they are planning to build. Here is a link to their post. http://safereactor.org/post/57104636966/no-room-in-detroit
It is a pretty incredible claim for a company that currently has no facilities. Supposedly the city that was home to GM, Ford and Chrysler has nothing large enough for them.
In 1966, the Fermi I nuclear power plant, the only liquid metal cooled breeder reactor that provided commercial electricity in the United States, suffered a partial melt when an internal reactor component moved and partially blocked coolant flow.
Fermi I was repaired by 1970 and restored to operating status for a couple of years, but its performance was not good. As a one of a kind reactor, its costs were not competitive, so it was decommissioned in 1972. (In 1972, power companies could buy oil for $2 per barrel.) The partial melting of the reactor, which was located about 30 miles from Detroit, became the subject of a popular antinuclear book by John Fuller, published by Reader’s Digest titled We Almost Lost Detroit.
On Thursday, July 18, 2013, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, saddled with $18 billion worth of obligations with few ways of raising the funds required to pay them. The once great industrial city has suffered from several decades worth of massive exodus of both people and businesses; its population is about half of what it was 20 years ago. It is literally withering away.
American Atomics is presenting a plan to community leaders in Detroit, Michigan, offering to locate the company’s new factory and other operations in that economically strapped city. The plan, claimed to generate between 500,000 and 1 million new jobs in Detroit over the next 10 years, includes building the world’s largest factory, as well as guaranteeing to supply Detroit with electricity at a flat rate of 2¢ per kilowatt-hour for both businesses and residences, beginning in 5 years.
Full details about the somewhat audacious plan are available at An Offer To The City Of Detroit. Interestingly enough, the technology that the company plans to develop into mass produced small nuclear power plants uses liquid metal cooling, something that has not been used in commercial nuclear plants in the United States since Fermi 1. (It has been used in a number of prototype and test reactors including the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) and the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR)).
I’ll have more about this later, but I’d like to leave you with a music video with a haunting refrain – “We almost lost Detroit – this time“. I’m sure there are at least some Atomic Insights readers who remember what the city was like when it was a booming manufacturing powerhouse. Perhaps the audacious American Atomics plan will help it recover.
PS – Audacity is not necessarily a negative word. When big changes are needed, people with audacious ideas and the drive to turn them into reality are often the only ones who can succeed.