One of the reasons that I have chosen to use the word “atomic” vice the word “nuclear” on my blogs, web sites, and in my company’s name is to evoke memories of an era when people were optimistic about energy from “the atom”. There was a time when nearly everyone agreed that atomic fission was a great boon for mankind.
Many readers on the Internet may be too young to personally remember that time, but many others do. It was not so very long ago, even though some forms of human communication (like television) give the impression that 30 years is an eternity.
I ran across an interesting article this morning that might interest people who like to know what has gone on before them. The article, published in May 21, 2007 issue of The Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Washington, is titled Step into the UW’s former nuclear reactor, describes the history of an empty hulk of a building where a couple of generations of students learned a bit about nuclear fission behavior and the effects of irradiation on various materials.
The UW reactor operated from 1961 until 1988 when it was closed due to shrinking interest in the subject. The nuclear engineering department was closed a few years later. This story is a common one around the US, where the installed base of university reactors has declined from a peak of nearly 70 to about 30 that are currently still available for students.
Just think how much more quickly we would be able to expand our use of nuclear power as a mitigating action to slow global climate change if we had simply kept up the facilities and kept producing trained operators and engineers. Think about how many fewer megatons of CO2 would not be in the atmosphere if we had continued along the path that we were traveling in 1973 when there were predictions that nuclear fission would supply more than half of the electrical power in the US by the year 2000.
Instead of burning 1.3 million tons of coal each year generating electricity and importing more than 12 million barrels of oil per day, we might already be converting coal into a clean burning diesel fuel with the assistance of readily available atomic heat. (This step would have been a logical progression for the Synthetic Fuels Corporation program to take except for the fact that the anti-nuclear forces had already succeeded in making people more afraid of the atom than hopeful about its future by the time that program evolved.)
Just think about how many fewer billions of dollars would have flowed into the coffers of unstable, non-democratic fossil fuel exporters if that had come about.
Aside: Isn’t it fun to live in an era where a guy living in Annapolis, MD can take note of a well written article in a student newspaper published more than 3000 miles away at the University of Washington the day after it was published?