Kevan Crawford has published well-written op-ed titled Nuclear power answer to clean energy. He described some nuclear energy’s impressive benefits and compared them to the available alternative power sources, which were exposed as being vastly inferior based on an objective evaluation of their characteristics and limitations. Here is the disclaimer associated with Kevan’s opinion piece.
Kevan Crawford, PhD, is a licensed and professionally active nuclear engineer who supports a balanced mix of energy sources, including nuclear power, for Utah. He lives in Salt Lake City.
The associated discussion thread included the following almost illiterate post that inspired a rather “grouchy old man” reaction.
Does Kevan work for energy solutions? If not what
Nuclear energy company does he work for. I also ask if what he is saying is true, then he needs to move him and his family including his small children and pets.right.nextdoor to.a nuclear power plant. Other wise everything he has said is nothing more than a sales.ouch for rich people who will make a fortune off this plant, and love thousands of miles.away from it. (Sic)
As a nuclear energy professional, I was offended by the implied accusation that my thoughts about energy are somehow tainted by my job.
As some of the regulars on Atomic Insights may recall, I recently ended a rare period of silence from me on the site. I had produced no posts and no comments for nearly two weeks. It was a busy time in the rest of my life, but part of the reason for my silence was that I was questioning my decision to enter into the nuclear industry when I retired from the US Navy.
Though I am passionately in favor of a dramatic expansion of nuclear energy use as a partial cure for so many of the world’s most pressing economic, environmental and political issues, I was being reminded on a daily basis why helping to make that vision real is an emotionally challenging way to make a living.
I was reading several stories daily from short-sighted “utility industry leaders” claiming that a fifty year old drilling technique called “fracking” had provided the world with an almost magical source of “cheap, clean natural gas” that makes nuclear irrelevant – or at least uncompetitive. During my day job, I was dealing with traditional nukes who could happily waste valuable time in conference rooms full of expensive employees discussing whether or not “accept” and “acceptance” were just different forms of the same word. We have a lot of really cool stuff happening, but people with those big plant mentality work habits can really gum up the works.
I had also had an energizing conversation with an inquisitive young lady who was gathering information in support of a newly funded non-profit expressly formed to support nuclear energy. All of the energy gained from that experience disappeared when I found out I was ineligible to even be considered for the position of executive director because I had chosen to spend the last 18 months in the nuclear industry.
The philanthropists funding this new pronuclear non-profit are looking for someone with nuclear knowledge but no industry ties. It was not so much that I was interested in changing jobs but the idea that even some of the technology’s most dedicated supporters felt the need to distance themselves from the “taint” of nuclear industry insiders.
Bottom line: I was not a happy camper and not terribly interested in writing positive commentary about the future of nuclear energy.
After a productive weekend full of outdoor activity supported by amazing central VA weather, I snapped out of the funk. Lyncare13’s comment inspired rather than angered me. Here is the reply I posted:
I freely admit that I work as an engineer/analyst for a company that is designing small modular reactors. I am proud of my service in the US nuclear submarine force, which is what provided me with the technical experience and skills required to do the job I have been asked to do. In my growing neighborhood in Lynchburg, VA, I can count almost a dozen families who have purchased homes in the past 3 years whose breadwinner works on the same project.
I have spent many months sealed up in a ship within 200 feet of an operating nuclear reactor. I happily lived in a port city hosting dozens of nuclear reactors on ships. Both of my daughters were born during those years. Does that satisfy your demands to walk the walk and talk the talk?
BTW – I am not rich, but I am certainly not poor either. Neither are the hundreds of professionals that are putting in 40-70 hour weeks to complete a design that should provide reliable, emission free power to millions of people in the coming decades. Please stop trying to demonize some really hard working, high integrity people.
After posting that, I thought about the recent evening walk that my wife and I took through our neighborhood. We said hello to two of those dozen or so colleagues that I mentioned during that walk. We had a nice conversation with a neighbor who is a retired engineer from Sikorsky who admired the “Another Environmentalist for Nuclear Energy” tee shirt I was wearing.
We also talked about the exterior designs and features of the dozens of new homes under construction and were entertained by the sounds of happy construction workers who were reluctantly ending their day as the sun dipped below the horizon. Forgive me if I am wrong, but isn’t the sound of hammers and bulldozers going until dusk every night kind of rare in the United States these days?
It shouldn’t be. We have a wonderful country full of bright, hard working and intelligent people. We have an abundance of natural resources, including energy resources in the form of uranium and thorium that could provide power to do creative work for many millennia. We need to stop allowing anyone to demonize nuclear energy or the professionals who make its use possible.
However, as nukes we also have a responsibility to understand more about the characteristics of the heat source that make our machines operate. It is not nearly as dangerous as the competitors have convinced everyone – including most of us – to believe it is. There is simply NO evidence – just a disproven assumption – indicating hazard below about 100 mSv (10 Rem) per year. If sensible tolerance dose limits were adopted instead of the assumption that only “zero” is safe enough, there would be healthy, happy, productive Japanese people living right up to the gates of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
There would be as many as 51 reactors operating in Japan right now instead of just one. There would be at least $55 billion more in Japanese pockets instead of in Qatari and ExxonMobil pockets. There would be a nuclear renaissance instead of what seems like another natural gas bubble in progress.
I would be less frustrated with my choice of professions.
I know that one person is powerless to change the world, but today, one person can communicate with hundreds who can each communicate with hundreds more. If nothing else, practically trained nukes understand how to obtain useful work from a critical mass of material that can undergo a controlled chain reaction. We need to learn to apply that knowledge of the behavior of physical material to human interactions with more skill and perseverance.