By Nancy Spannaus
Sept. 18, 2019—Just as the future of the young United States depended upon a decision to industrialize, so the future of our country today depends upon investing in a vast expansion of nuclear power, both fission and fusion. Thus it is a good sign that the debate over reviving nuclear power in the United States is intensifying, even though it is by no means clear that the advocates are winning.
Particularly useful is the entry of qualified nuclear scientists and engineers into the debate. This week’s two-part story on nuclear on Boston’s WBUR radio featured some important insights from Jacopo Buongiorno, the co-leader of the Reactor Lab and head of MIT’s Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems. I encourage you to read or listen to it here.
Buongiorno made a particular point about the importance of new small-reactor designs, which are now moving ahead rapidly through the work of companies such as Oregon’s NuScale Power. Besides the advances in design for safety and flexibility, the movement for small reactors is intended to address the obstacle of the huge investment costs for larger plants. It should be noted that a substantial aspect of that cost has come from the anti-nuclear movement’s deliberate attempts to block construction in various ways, including interminable reviews and lawsuits.
While the United States debates, other nations are moving ahead with substantial nuclear investment. Russia’s recent launching of its first floating nuclear plant, which has now at the Far East Chukotka Peninsula, is a pioneering effort which could be applied to many remote areas around the world. The Akademik Lomonosov is equipped with small nuclear reactors which will be loaded with fuel by next year, and are capable of providing power to facilities housing 100,000 people. According to Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear agency, it will replace an aging nuclear plant and coal-fired plant in the area, and is slated to function for at least 15 years.
As expected, the anti-nuclear lobby is doing its best to scare-monger about the Russian reactor. But, as Buongiorno pointed, the United States itself pioneered such floating nuclear plants, having deployed a nuclear reactor on a barge in a lake in Panama, to aid that nation during a drought 50 years ago. He could have also mentioned Admiral Rickover’s nuclear Navy, which has operated safely since 1954.
It is to be hoped that more nuclear scientists begin to speak out, making it clear that the energy density of nuclear power represents an essential, economical, and safe advance for mankind’s ability to lift the world out of poverty, and into new levels of prosperity worthy of humanity.