Letter from the Editor: Small Is Beautiful
At the request of several readers, we have decided to dedicate this issue to discussing the Adams Engine concept. Rather than talking about technical details, however, we have decided to talk about general principles and philosophies.
Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. has determined that it is possible to build uranium heated machines that can fulfill many of the needs now met by combustion engines. Since the overwhelming opinion of conventional wisdom is that nuclear power can only be used to produce electricity in huge central station power plants, this idea is a radical change that is worth discussing.
The First Nuclear Age
So far, the commercial use of nuclear energy has been limited to large corporations organized to build and operate extremely large machines. From their point of view, the only nuclear plants that make sense are devices large enough to supply the power needs of several hundred thousand people. The prevailing wisdom is that bigger machines produce less expensive power.
Nuclear plant suppliers are also governed by a business model similar to that of the companies that make mainframe computers. Each manufacturer has designed its own proprietary hardware, software and consumables. The idea is that the sale of the initial power plant is only be the first of many sales to the same customer. By design, the customer is obligated to return to the original manufacturers for service and supplies throughout the life of the plant.
From an outsider’s point of view, it appears that the original nuclear suppliers are sticking with existing nuclear paradigms. The smallest plant that they are publicly considering produces 600 MW of electricity. Each of the proposed designs is unique, even to the point of requiring specially designed fuel.
The Second Nuclear Age
The Second Nuclear Age has not yet begun. In fact, there is a widely held belief that it is not even coming. It is a bit risky to try to predict the shape of things to come, but AEI is not averse to stepping out on a limb.
It is our official opinion that the second atomic age will be governed by a quest to make atomic engines smaller, not larger. Various designers may produce machines with unique features, but they will use some common basic components. Most importantly, they will use a fuel design that can flexibly supply a wide variety of engines from different manufacturers.
By making smaller engines with common components, it will be possible to expand the application of nuclear energy to the vast energy markets that have not even considered uranium as an alternative fuel source.
Small atomic engines may be as revolutionary in the power business as small computers have been in the information business. They will not, however, replace big iron plants in applications where such machines makes sense, just as PCs have not completely replaced mainframes in large enterprises.
In certain markets atomic engines will allow power customers the same kind of improvement in capability as did the switch from paper ledgers and typewriters to spreadsheets and word processors.