So, speaking of energy – there’s a new kind of fission reactor being developed called a traveling-wave reactor, and if it works as predicted, it could change the face of energy production. But here’s the catch: It’s being developed, using American funding, in China. Why? Because too many Americans are morons when it comes to nuclear power. Excerpts, with my comments:
For well over a decade, Bill Gates has funded TerraPower, a startup seeking to design, build, and commercialize a revolutionary nuclear reactor. Their traveling-wave reactor design uses depleted uranium to operate, rather than uranium-235 like in current reactors, and is built so that if left unattended, it will slowly shut down, making a catastrophic meltdown a near impossibility. Optimistic estimates from the company suggest that current American stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel could be used in traveling-wave reactors to electrify the entire country for hundreds of years, and for far cheaper than current nuclear plants. This is carbon-free, baseload electricity that could easily provide the foundation for a next-generation, renewable-focused energy grid.
This would rattle a lot of cages. Combined with clean natural gas for various purposes (like heating, for example) this would be great for delivering cheap energy. And cheap energy is like octane-booster for a nation’s economy. In the case of something like this, there’s really no down side. So why China?
In partnership with the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), TerraPower was preparing to break ground on a prototype 600 MegaWatt reactor in Fujian province, but then political disaster struck. Late in 2018, Department of Energy policy changes stemming from the U.S. – China trade war forced TerraPower to end its agreement with the CNNC, leaving their potentially game-changing reactor without a home.
So bring it home. Let’s start building this reactor here, in the United States.
We can’t, you say? Why not?
This saga brings up a key question: why was an American company, funded by one of America’s most wealthy and respected philanthropists, going to China to build their next-generation nuclear reactor? Why not here? The simple answer is that Americans are notoriously afraid of and unfriendly toward nuclear power. Though nuclear has reliably and safely provided roughly 20% of electricity in the U.S. for the past quarter-century, a majority of Americans oppose it and politicians have repeatedly erected more and more regulatory roadblocks, driving up costs and making new nuclear power plants nearly impossible to build. Even innovative ideas like what Bill Gates and TerraPower are proposing are not welcome.
As I said, too many Americans are morons when it comes to nuclear energy – and too many of those morons are warming chairs in the Imperial City.
Seriously, folks, there are few better examples of how an overbearing government can screw things up for everybody. Here we have an innovative technology that could deliver cheap, clean, nigh-unlimited energy to millions, and it’s being logjammed because OMG NUKULAR!
The article closes with:
There’s no guarantee that TerraPower’s traveling-wave reactor will work in practice. Its system of liquid sodium cooling has been attempted before with little success. Moreover, power production efficiencies could end up far lower than what their simulations suggest. Other, unforeseen problems could also arise.
The government won’t get out of the way. Not voluntarily. The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act mentioned in the article would be a spit into a hurricane. The only way we’ll know if a traveling-wave reactor will work is to build one, and I’ll be the most amazed guy around if the Imperial government allows it in our country.
I could be wrong. I’d love to be wrong. But I don’t think I am.