29 December, 2008

Community nuclear power

Here's a syllogism to consider.  Distributed power is better for the liberty and security of human beings than concentrated power.  The technology is near to bury small nuclear reactors (or "batteries," it that word helps you sleep at night) to provide electrical power on a local scale--between 10 and 25 MW, to 20,000 homes, for thirty years. Conclusion: if we want to promote liberty and security, we should promote the use of community-sized nuclear power plants.

Ok, now to take it apart.  Is distributed power always preferable?  Not always, but often enough that it's a good rule of thumb.  The ideas of federalism and checks and balances are based on the assumption that the concentration of power in the hands of a few is a threat to everyone else.  One of the greatest arguments against nuclear power, in my opinion, has been the construction of vulnerable, complex mega-plants, each a target for terrorism, each "too important and too large to fail" without threatening millions of people.  They require a massive security infrastructure, which limits the liberty of innocents, and which will never be perfect enough to deal with an unanticipated threat, or act of God, or (most likely) act of stupidity.

(For a nightmare scenerio, consider what would have happened if one of the 9/11 flights had come down early, on the Hudson-river nuclear plant that helps to provide power to New York.  It was an easy target, and on the flight path to the World Trade Center.)

To harm (or even to open) the nuclear element of a community power plant would require digging it up from under 100 feet of soil.  There are much easier ways to get nuclear materials.  The nuclear components are sealed, to be opened an refueled at the factory, under tight security.  An act of God (for example, a massive earthquake) or stupidity (?) would lead to an automatic shutdown.  This would be a problem, but not a catastrophe.

The more I think about this, the better it looks.  Not perfect, but worth pursuing.  Now lets see if the regulators and politicians can see beyond the "nuclear" label and give it a fair hearing.


Backyard reactors? Firms shrink the nukes. | csmonitor.com

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