This is what technophilia looks like

i watch the nuclear news.  In particular i watch the nuclear reactor stories which the mainstream media promotes.  This week there is a lot of excitement about the young man in this picture.

Taylor Wilson designs small reactors circa 2013

Taylor Wilson designs small reactors circa 2013

Taylor Wilson, according to the TED talk article, built a fusion reactor in his parents garage when he was 14.  Only he did not. Here is what the OED says about reactors:

an apparatus or structure in which fissile material can be made to undergo a controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction with the consequent release of energy.

What young Mr. Wilson did is at best a fusion experiment.  There is no self-sustaining aspect to this reaction, and whatever power was released was dwarfed by the energy that went into making his experiment.  In fact this is a classic nuclear power deception, claiming that you are solving problems when you are at best doing nothing and at worst creating other problems.

As for fusion power as a solution to the worlds energy problems, this remains another illusive myth.  In 2006, New Scientist said “If commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away.”

Now we are told that Mr Wilson at the age of 18 has designed a small modular reactor.  Again we are bombarded with technophilic promises:

  • Its underground, so is safer from a terrorism perspective
  • No chance for meltdowns
  • Can consume waste from nuclear weapons program
  • 30 years (instead of 1.5) between refuelings
  • small, built in factories and thus cheap
  • passive design and intrinsically safe
  • Will have on the market in 5 years

Only he will not have them on the market in 5 years.  The promises are basically identical to the promises Bill Gates makes for his own Terra Power. But the folks at Gates’ very well funded research organization are now estimating 2022 for the first prototype.  It is worth noting that this is being built outside the US because the permiting process is too slow, a point young Mr. Wilson seems to have no concerns about.  But since he does not have a company to back up his fanciful claims it perhaps does not matter.

Atom on abstract background

The point here is the one most powerfully made by Jerry Mander in his book, In The Absence of the Sacred.  The people presenting the new technology are the ones who benefit from its existence and who have no interest in pointing out the problems or downsides for their proposals.  This is not that surprising; why should they hype their own problems?

What is not excusable is the mainstream media’s complicit behavior in this.  I have read perhaps a dozen articles on this clever young man.  Not one of them points out that seasoned nuclear engineers with financial backing are not forecasting production of small modular reactors for a dozen years.  Nor do any of these excited writers point out that the type of reactor Taylor is hoping to design is an existing design which has been abandoned by several countries for more promising designs.  They do not even challenge the idea that this might not be a cheap solution, since all reactors currently under construction in the west (western Europe and North America) are delayed and over budget.

And while i have not studied this design in depth, it almost certainly fails the most important tests for a reactor: cost, waste and flexibility.

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About paxus calta

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found on Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

11 responses to “This is what technophilia looks like”

  1. ted says :

    Great article Pax. Lots of points negative points of reactors I hadn’t heard before. I do have a problem with you last paragraph, feels like you are setting up strawmen. I’m no engineer, but it seems pretty obvious how they would get nuclear engines to space, the same way they get currently get nuclear powered satellites and probes there. A 2 stage design, conventional rocket/booster to break the atmosphere, then when in a vacuum the nuclear engine takes over.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Ted:

      One is foolish to bet against technology. And i wonder how much the smallest reactor weighs when compared to the heaviest rocket payload launched to date. i am guessing there is several orders of magnitude here, but just guessing.

      Paxus in Vegas

  2. KitemanSA says :

    Before making pontifications like this (And while i have not studied this design in depth, it almost certainly fails the most important tests for a reactor: cost, waste and flexibility) perhaps you SHOULD learn more about it. They do show great promise to achieve low cost, very low waste, and great flexibility. Learn, baby, learn!

    • paxus says :

      You mean just like breeders before them, or thorium reactors, or pebble bed reactors. What nuclear has is a very long history of big failed promises. But clearly you are a true believer, meaning reality need not constrain your thinking. Learn your nuclear history.

      • Martin Kral says :

        Nuclear history timeline is very short and a number of road bumps.. Renewable and Hydrocarbon energy has been tapped for thousands of years. Both have evolved and so will nuclear. If you look out to 2076, world energy will be completely different. Technology will change it.

      • KitemanSA says :

        Actually, I DO mean Thorium reactors, but unlike most prior “Thorium” reactors which used Thorium in solid form in typical light water reactors, I mean Liquid Fluoride Thorium Recyclers (aka LFT Reactors). Using Thorium in solid fuel reactors is akin to putting diesel in a spark ignition engine. It may work after a fashion, but it shines in a compression ignition engine.

      • paxus says :

        More money down the rat hole of nuclear research, sorry not interested. If it is so clever get Westinghouse to pay for its development.

  3. yoko says :

    The people presenting the new technology are the ones who benefit from its existence and who have no interest in pointing out the problems or downsides for their proposals.

    -Is this your biggest problem? As I don`t see any technical points in your article, just propaganda and (may-be) parvanimity.

    In 2006, New Scientist said “If commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away.”

    -So what??? `New Scientist` 2006 is your God?

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