Issue Date: April 25, 2011
Whither Nuclear Power?
Long ago, steam was found to be a fascinating, easily produced form of the universally available resource, water. “Boilers” safely producing steam heat and hot water for baths and myriad cleansing processes are now appreciated worldwide. But it took many decades to develop safe boiler pressure control. I estimate that there might have been several tens of thousands of individuals killed and injured over the past couple of centuries in boiler explosions. It took that much time to research, develop, engineer, produce, and regulate the materials, structural designs, and instrumentation to make the use of boilers both reasonably safe and common.
Now I watch with great concern the consequences of tsunami and earthquake damage to nuclear power plants and then to the people of Japan. We won’t know for a while the human casualties caused by released radiation there. We just know for sure that massive research and engineering must be applied to the design, instrumentation, materials, siting, construction, start-up, operation, and controlled shutdown of nuclear power plants there and everywhere else.
My experience is in rocket science, industrial gases production, and operations with hazardous materials. Therein we proclaim safe operations as our first priority. That’s the way we have to go forward with nuclear power in the U.S. In the quarter or half century ahead we should also solve the long-term storage, or more desirably, the detoxification, of waste products. In that same time span, we might be able to solve the knotty problems involved in switching to safe nuclear fusion power production.
E. Ellsworth Hackman III
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