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Feedback: Mongrel Americans? – Nuclear Power Approach

March 2, 2009
Readers Asks for Additional Information on Nuclear Power
This article was printed in CONTROL's March 2009 edition.

Mongrel Americans?

As a Mongrel-American (mixture of French, Austrian, Native-American, and perhaps others), I found your article in the January issue of Control “Nuclear Security: Part II Fission Basics” disturbing.  After downloading the full article and footnotes, my anxiety subsided, however. 

While I understand your emphasizing the need to improve American scientific education, I find the hyphenated American name tactic to be a rather blunt instrument. Should we not recognize and honor a person’s accomplishments, character and integrity rather than knowledge, finances and celebrity? Focusing on a person’s birthplace and placing value on their ethnicity has occurred all too frequently in human history. It has occurred in the recent past under some brutal regimes that forced millions to seek American freedom, including the men referenced in the article. 

I appreciate Dr. Teller’s contributions to the Manhattan Project and the cold war, rather than his ethnicity. He is credited with the development with the hydrogen bomb, much to the chagrin of other Manhattan Project scientists.  He became a tireless advocate of a strong nuclear program, arguing for continued testing and development. He believed that U.S. security lay in an unassailable offensive and defensive posture. He regretted retiring in 1975 from active physics research, but felt a moral imperative in working toward strong national armaments for defense. And he was successful. The U.S. conducted over 1,000 nuclear weapons tests during the cold war.  From the 300 nuclear weapons in the U.S arsenal in 1954, over 70,000 were developed by 1980 in the form of bombs, missiles and artillery shells.  Given his actions, it is difficult to believe that Dr. Teller really “did all he could” to prevent their use on civilian targets.

Fortunately, in 2000, both the U.S. and Russia agreed to reduce their weapons grade plutonium stock pile by 34 metric tons. Each country plans to blend down the plutonium for use in a nuclear reactor power plant.  Destroying nuclear weapons material while producing electrical power is something we can all support. 

J. Troy Martel, PE
Safe Operating Systems, Inc.

Another Approach to Nuclear Power

I have been a great fan of Béla Lipták’s writing and read his work with interest.

With respect to  nuclear power, I hope he plans to discuss the option of the mini-reactor (pebble bed). These systems were demonstrated in Europe and they are able to run with helium as the coolant. Because the fuel is encapsulated, it is impossible to create a runaway and the system reaches thermal equilibrium at 800 degrees without coolant, so it can’t melt down. No Chernobyl. 

Assuming the availability of a superior core design, the use of a national grid to supply electricity becomes moot. It is great for emergency backup, but should not be used a primary means of delivering energy. There is too much inefficiency when nuclear and wind power (on top of commercial buildings) can be installed at the point of use.

A shift from coal mining to fuel production in places like Wyoming where there is excellent transportation seems like a great way to transition the old coal burning industry to the 21st century and really make a change in our air quality.  I do not support the idea of doing nuclear the same old way.  It’s too expensive and still somewhat dangerous. 

An added benefit of the pebbles is that the ceramic encapsulation makes if very difficult to steal the fuel and re-purpose it for weapons. 

Please let people know there are better choices.

Steve Meyer
Solid Tech Inc

Editor’s Note: Pebble bed technology will be covered in a future Lessons Learned.

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