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Nuclear Power

Get Over It

And Here's Why

As an engineer there are certain things that make me go ballistic. Nuclear power is one of them. Why?

Designing and building anything that deals with a very large amount of energy (and nuclear power plants are the largest of anything we do) requires a certain set of deeply held, and extraordinarily rigorous values. These values in turn lead to so called "best practices" which lead to a whole world of how things should be done. No exceptions, no comprises. The idea is to get as close to zero risk as possible. All our submarines and most of our warships run on nuclear power. (Donad Trump thinks they are incorrectly designed and should run on steam. An advantage of nuclear power is no big tanks of combustable fuel, and the nuclear fuel is replaced every few years; in fact there is at least one ship that will never need refueling. This is lots safer.)

So what is "best practices?" In a nutshell it is for the non-engineers to keep their noses out of engineers business; it is the best engineers directed to build something that to the absolute best of their ability cannot fail, and a group of reliability and engineering people who have authority to stop the work. Management has authority to stop it also, but not to start it without complete agreement of the engineers. This is part of best practices.

Challenger blew up because management over rode the engineers. The temperature was far below specifications for the "O" rings but management said (if my memory is correct) "can you prove to me it will blow up?" One of the stupidest questions in history.

It is certainly beyond me to write the manual but two comments: Chernobel was an excercise in corruption and incompetance. Japan was just the sort of thing you watch out for. Built fifteen feet above sea level. Never had a tidal wave that high. But the real question is could there be a tidal wave that high if the right kind of earthquake happened. Yes. So what is the right question: what is the largest tidal wave ever recorded and is their any concievable way we could get one large enough to reach the plant. Then come the details of plant design and construction.

Bottom line; the advantages of nuclear power: no emissions, no storage probems, etc. would be a huge help in emission reduction if done right. End of Part 1.

Part 2 is what I consider the definitive scientific report on the role of nucer power. It was donc at MIT and you can reach it by clicking on MIT NUCLEAR STUDY.

A pdf file of the complete report is available at MIT NUCLEAR STUDY PDF. The conclusions reached were briefly as follows:

1. It is very expensive but that could be offset by standardized prefab designs built in factories.

2. Proven designs should be used rather that something like sodium cooled reactors which present too many risks.

3. Reactors should be built in a number of sizes with the largest probably one gigawatt with the possibility of reactors as small as 1 megawatt to increase flexibility in siting.

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