On 28 December 2005, John Rennie, the editor in chief of Scientific American posted an interesting blog entry titled A New Breed of Nuclear Reactors?. The entry talks about a 27 December 2005 New York Times article by Matthew Wald titled Scientists Try to Resolve Nuclear Problem With an Old Technology Made New Again and a December 2005 Scientific American article titled Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste.
The articles and blog entry represent several different points of view about the idea of breeder reactors.
While I have not yet had the time to read the full article on breeders published by Scientific American, I feel the immediate need to comment on the philosophy displayed by Scientific American’s editor in chief (a post that he has held since 1994) at the end of his blog entry:
Many months ago, when Hannum et al. proposed their article to Scientific American, the other editors and I debated whether to invite it. Was it realistic to suggest that a new nuclear fission technology might contribute significantly to the world’s energy future when the technical and economic forces freighted against it seemed so daunting? Might this not be just another in a long series of attempts by nuclear power enthusiasts to draw attention to their favorite technology? The argument that eventually prevailed was that, for better or worse, these fast-neutron reactors and electrorefining ideas did seem to be getting taken seriously by some physicists and policymakers, and as such, it was worth making sure that our readers were fully aware of them.
Where this technology goes from here is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps I am misunderstanding the comment, but it seems pretty apparent to me that the editors of Scientific American have an inherent bias against the use of nuclear fission power. The comment indicates that they do not think much of the ability of fission to provide large quantities of energy, despite all evidence to the contrary. They think that extremely intelligent people that have spent their lives learning about the physics, mathematics and engineering necessary to design and build nuclear power plants are merely “enthusiasts” trying to sell a favorite technology.
When I get some time, I intend to do some searching through Scientific American’s archives to see what I can determine about their reluctance to publish articles about wind, solar, biomass, oil, gas and coal, all of which have substantial technical and economic issues that limit their ability to supply humans with useful power now and into the future.
Sure, fission’s issues are far from being totally solved, but it amazes me that Scientific American editors feel the need to have a lengthy internal debate before they even consider publishing an article about serious research designed to solve several of those problems.
My personal philosophy about recycling used nuclear fuel is well documented on this site and on Atomic Insights. My views have not changed much since publishing a complete monthly issue on the topic of minimizing waste: Atomic Insights: June 1995. It is wasteful to even consider permanent disposal of the material that still contains 95% or more of the initial potential energy.
One more thing – there should never be any doubt that all energy developments will have detractors; it is a competitive and extremely lucrative business where perception plays a role in BILLIONS of dollars changing hands. There will ALWAYS be winners and losers in energy technology debates and there will never be unanimous approval of any specific technology.
If given the opportunity, free markets can help pick the winners, but never forget that several participants in The Great Game play by Tonya Harding competitive principles – i.e. kneecapping is okay, especially if you can find someone else to do the dirty work.