The Atomic Show #105 – Atomic Show #105 – Some PBMR science and technology from the inside
Hans and Mary Lou Gougar return to The Atomic Show for an update on their respective PBMR related research projects.
One of our show sponsors is by Entergy Nuclear. (They take no responsibility for any of the comments by the show host or the guests.)
Imagine how cool it would be to work for a traditional utility company far sighted enough to invest advertising dollars in the Atomic Show Podcast!
Hans and Mary Lou Gougar are two of my favorite nuclear specialists. They are both currently living and working in South Africa as part of the large international team developing the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). Hans is doing safety and pebble flow analysis while Mary Lou is working on methods of treating and recycling graphite.
They have visited with me on The Atomic Show before ( The Atomic Show #094 – Hans and Mary Lou Gougar (with Charlie and Betty) – a nuclear family living in South Africa) and have returned to provide an update on their respective research projects and on the challenges and rewards of living and working abroad.
We talked about recycling graphite from legacy reactors like Magnox, THTR, French gas-graphite systems, and various Russian programs. We talked about modeling the flow of pebbles through a core, about dust accumulation and carbon-14 production. It was a great conversation full of enough details for even the most geeky of the geeks. (I just wish that Shane could have participated!)
During the show, I promised to share contact information for Hans for anyone interested in learning more about working on PBMR. You can reach him via email at Hans.Gougar(at symbol)pbmr.co.za.
For those of you who are interested in domestic opportunities in the nuclear industry, you can find out more information at nuclearenergycareers.com
The following gets a bit off topic for The Atomic Show, but I wanted to write it down somewhere.
During episode 105, I promised to share a link from Nader.org to a 1983 article that promotes Breed Corporation’s air bag system.
New Airbag Developed, at Lower Cost, for Crash Protection – Dated Friday, November 18, 1983
Here is how this story got mixed up in a discussion about the PBMR.
Hans and I were talking a bit about the tension between the scientists and engineers working on PBMR and the business people that want to get the product “out the door” so it can begin generating electricity. Until that happens, there is no return on the large investment of time and money from Eskom and the South African taxpayers.
Hans mentioned that the engineers typically wanted to ensure that they satisfied the regulators and then moved on, while the scientists often got distracted by “interesting” work leading to lots of new paths of study.
The conversation turned to a comparison to automobile air bags, which brought me to a mention of Breed Technologies. I had some personal familiarity with the company from my time as the General Manager of a small manufacturing enterprise on the west coast of Florida. Breed was one of the largest manufacturing companies in the area. I met several people over the years doing business there who were intimately familiar with the story of how Breed Technologies grew rapidly from a small transplant company from “up north”.
Allen Breed was a fine engineer who had put his expertise in designing weapons fuses and explosives to use in a unique concept for an automobile air bag system. He knocked on doors for years without much success. My contacts indicated that the key factor in the company’s success was getting government regulations put into place that encouraged and later required manufacturers to install the equipment.
What I did not know when I mentioned Breed during the conversation with the Gougars was just how relevant that story is to the story of nuclear power. I learned that during some fascinating Googling during the show editing and notes preparation. (I know – I have trouble focusing on a single topic at times. Personality flaw.)
The link between nuclear power and air bags is the fact that a participant in Allen Breed’s successful effort to promote his “safety improvement” invention was a Ralph Nader organization.
For my cynical mind, the air bag story is a very interesting chain-of-events case study. It shows how an engineering company with an idea that they cannot sell in the normal way enlisted the help of activists to make it mandatory equipment. Breed Technologies owed a good deal of its business success to Nader’s skills in agitating for federal regulations.
In other words, there is money to be made from pressure group activism and not all of the money goes to the lawyers. I cannot help but assume that safety invention promoters know the importance of this marketing technique and invest time and money in trying to ensure its success.
Here are some additional links:
- BREED Technologies, Inc. Loses Founder, Allen K. Breed
- History of Key Safety Systems, Inc (the current name of the company that was originally Breed Technologies)
Just in case you do not follow the links and read the articles, here is a brief summary:
Breed Technologies was a spin off from the Breed Corporation that was promoted in the Nader article focusing on air bag systems. It sold products to both Ford and Chrysler and eventually to all new cars. The company raised more than $60 million in a 1992 IPO. By 1997, when Allen Breed retired as Chairman and CEO, the company had annual sales in excess of half a billion dollars. The company was taken private by Carlyle Management Group – a company owned by people firmly entrenched in the power elite of the US – in 2003. It is now part of a billion dollar company focused on automobile safety equipment.
Who says that the efforts of activists and regulators benefit just leftist trial lawyers?
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Thank you Rod, interesting as always.
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