Frankly, it drives me nuts that there are tiny little third world countries moving way ahead of the U.S. with Generation 4 nuclear technologies that we pioneered, but that U.S. companies can't develop into a working infrastructure of safe, cheap, clean nuclear power because of the massive bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the AEC.
I won't argue whether those regulations were necessary, presumably as safeguards against all the things that could go wrong with the few utterly obsolete Gen 1 and Gen 2 plants that are still in operation...although most are extinct by now. Instead, I'll simply state that such regulations are irrelevant to most Gen 4 technologies.
When you have intrinsically safe
- Are 95% fuel-efficient (such as any of the molten salt reactors);
- Produce a fraction of the waste of the current solid fuel reactors (which are only ~5% fuel-efficient; 95% of the fuel ends up as highly radioactive waste); and,
- Have a ubiquitously available, virtually inexhaustible supply of fuel (e.g., thorium)
...it boggles the mind that we can't get such plants built because of crippling regulations that were applicable to completely different, obsolete technologies.
What's most incomprehensible of all is that those who are convinced that catastrophic anthropgenic global warming (CAGW) is a fully corroborated fact aren't thrilled to orgasmic levels about Gen 4 technologies, which have zero carbon footprint. I won't argue about that either; it's also irrelevant. We could reduce the carbon emissions that result from energy production to essentially zero with Gen 4 technologies.
I'll go further; the current belief that electric automobiles can replace combustion engines is fantasy, as is the assertion that our energy needs can be supplied by so-called "green, renewable" sources like solar, wind, and geothermal. They have insufficient energy density, and in any case, the production of all the batteries (and the electricity to charge them) relies on current carbon-based energy generation. Solar can't replace it because physics, as anyone who has actually done the math knows. Ditto wind, geothermal, etc.
The only non-carbon-based energy source with sufficient energy density to supply the needs of modern civilization is nuclear...but not
the inefficient, potentially dangerous, problematical, vulnerable, half-century-plus-old designs (like Fukushima) that everyone thinks of when they recoil in horror from the word "nuclear". Gen 4 has none of those disadvantages.
Considering the current zeitgeist
, which holds CO2
-producing energy sources in approximately the same esteem as child molestation, I would think that the most aggressively devoted proponents of Gen 4 technologies would be those who are most concerned about CAGW. Yet, for some reason, I'm not seeing anything of the kind.
I wonder why that is...could it be that they are simply unaware that Gen 4 obviates every objection to current nuclear energy technologies (whether those objections are valid or bogus)? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that's the case.
Anyhow, cheap, plentiful fuel; designs that produce negligible amounts of waste, or none at all (and some that actually use existing wastes as fuel); walk-away safe designs, wherein the plant operators could drop acid and go to the beach, and if anything went wrong the plant would simply stop operating—not because of automated systems (which can fail), but because of the laws of physics; add it all up, and the only reason not
to go with Gen 4 is stupidity.
Alas, we seem to have an abundance of that, and it's NOT confined to the left or the right, so this isn't a political rant. I don't care which "side" you're on. We all use energy; we need it to live. It's available in the least costly, most abundant, and most environmentally friendly form via Gen 4 technologies.
If there's a rational reason for not developing a Gen 4 energy production infrastructure, I don't know what it is. Apparently, neither does Indonesia. They're already building thorium reactors. It's instructive that they don't have an ossified, institutionalized army of career nuclear bureaucrats administering useless regulations designed for obsolete technologies, most of whose dinosaurs are now extinct.