One thing that always strikes me when conversing with Americans – smart, educated Americans who consider themselves somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum – is how non-controversial nuclear power still is in the US, even among demographics who in Germany have been opposed to nuclear power for more than 25 years now.
Case in point: Here is an article from the National Geographic about a “small” (180 megawatt) modular nuclear reactor being built in Tennessee. I found it in a collection of science and technology links on the blog of a science fiction author I follow.
The main feature of this new reactor is that it’s cheaper to built than its more powerful brethren, though a single plant still costs 1 to 2 billion US-dollars. Think of how many wind turbines or solar cell arrays you could build for the cost of one of those things. Supposedly, the new modular reactors are also safer, since they can be air-cooled and buried underground. Indeed, proponents claim that the evacuation zone in the event of a catastrophic incident could be lowered from 10 miles according to current guidelines for regular nuclear reactors in the US (and from Fukushima and Chernobyl, we know that 10 miles isn’t nearly enough) to half a mile, which would allow the new reactors to be built closer to major population centres. It’s hard to imagine anybody reading the article and not being horrified.
To be fair, the article does mention the views of a detractor, who believes that evacuation zones should not be reduced in any event and that the new reactors may even be more at risk, since vital components are housed closer together. However, the detractor’s POV is only given in the last third of the article. The rest is unrelenting pro-nuclear cheerleading.
Here is the moneyshot quote, attributed to the CEO of the company building those “small” modular reactors in Tennessee:
There is no silver bullet, but any realistic scenario for power generation over the next 50 years will include nuclear in a big way.
No, it doesn’t. For while the US continues to push for nuclear energy, other countries like Germany are gradually switching off their nuclear power stations and going for more renewable energy.
Now National Geographic is a magazine to which we’ve had a subscription for years and which I’ve never viewed as a shill for the nuclear power industry. So I find articles like the one I linked above as well as this earlier article which extolls smaller nuclear power stations generating power for a small town or village as a “big idea” highly troubling.