About a week ago, I posted a link to a discussion about the world’s energy situation hosted by The Economist. One of the scheduled featured debaters was Joe Romm. I assumed that he would provide commentary that strongly discouraged the use of nuclear power – that is his normal position. I was wrong and apologize.
A couple of days ago, I finally got around to visiting the debate myself. I had to read Joe’s article carefully two or three times before I realized that he had written something with which I kind of agree. He even, for those of us who know our energy industry history and read carefully, wrote a closing statement that is an endorsement of nuclear power without coming right out and using the words.
We need strategies that can get a 5-10% share—or more—of the global market for energy in a quarter century. Second, if you are in the kind of hurry humanity is in, then you are going to have to take unusual measures to deploy technologies far more aggressively than has ever occurred historically.
Bottom line: If we want to preserve the health and well-being of future generations, then focusing government policy and resources on speeding up existing technology deployment is far more important than focusing them on breakthrough technology development.
There is only one energy technology that has ever met that criteria – conventional heat engines pair with nuclear heat sources. Here is the comment that I posted in the massive collection of suggestions captured by The Economist.
As surprising as it might sound to people who know me, I think I am going to have to vote with Joe Romm in this debate. We certainly have the technology today that is needed to address our existing energy problems without the need for any technical breakthroughs.
In fact we have been refining and expanding on our knowledge of the basic enabling technology for about 60 years and we are getting pretty darned good at it.
In 1955, the submarine that Rickover and his team built, the USS Nautilus, wowed the world with its amazing capability of running at high speeds while completely submerged. (In other words – emission free POWER.)
In a world that is stressed by availability of fossil fuel resources and worried about the long term effect of dumping deadly fossil fuel waste into the atmosphere, we need to rapidly expand our use of the same fuel that enabled the Nautilus to go off the grid and do amazing things like setting a speed record from Hawaii to the UK by taking a short cut under the Arctic ice cap.
Small nuclear plants, built in series like those that have powered more than 150 ships in the US Navy, but using modern available technology, could make a huge difference in our world’s energy situation, especially when constructed in a world that also uses large nuclear power plants in appropriate locations and grid systems.
Disclosure: I am the founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. a tiny company that has been promoting the concept of small nuclear power plants (1-50 MWe) for more than 15 years.
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
Editor, Atomic Insights
Host, The Atomic Show
Note: The “kind of” in the title for this comment comes as a result of the following line in Joe Romm’s commentary:
Certainly different wedges than the ones described above are possible. I suspect a second wedge of concentrated solar thermal, also known as baseload solar, may be more plausible than the coal-with-carbon-storage wedge.
This suggestion is completely at odds with the main thrust of his argument since neither baseload solar or coal with carbon storage fit the criteria of proven technology. In fact, I assert that neither one is even possible technology.