Saturday, March 08, 2008

Air Force to Build Small Nuclear Reactor

Small nuclear reactors would be convenient power sources for large industrial and military installations--particularly those in Arctic and Antarctic areas, or otherwise isolated locations such as mid-ocean locations. The US Air Force has come to the same conclusion:
According to a recent article in Energy and Environment News, the Air Force is planning to build a 100-225 megawatt nuclear power reactor. It will not only provide affordable, reliable electricity to an Air Force base, which has yet to be chosen, but will also be used as a power source for the local community. This is a departure from the usual news regarding the comeback of nuclear power. These stories generally revolve around plans to build large, 1000-1600 megawatt commercial reactors to increase power supplies to consumers that rely on the current electricity grid (also known as base load capacity expansion).

While such planning certainly signals a new day for nuclear power, it does not necessarily represent the full scope of a true nuclear renaissance. The Air Force’s decision, however, demonstrates a growing recognition that nuclear energy has applications beyond simple base load expansion. And that is an indication that a nuclear renaissance is truly underway.

One of the advantages of nuclear power is its flexibility, which the Air Force has recognized with its decision. These small reactors share many of the advantages of their larger counterparts. They produce massive amounts of power, run on inexpensive uranium, require infrequent refueling, and are environmentally friendly.

Smaller reactors have some unique advantages as well. First, they allow its users to insulate themselves from an increasingly unreliable U.S. power grid. This vulnerability was demonstrated last week when a relatively minor disturbance on the grid caused massive blackouts across Florida. They are also physically smaller so that they can be constructed in more isolated locations. This would obviously be attractive to the armed forces, which relies on a distributed system of sometimes remote installations and bases.

Outside of the military context, these smaller reactors could have a role in providing modern power services to some of the one and a half billion people that remain without access to modern power services throughout the world. This is not to say that every rural African or Asian village should have its very own reactor. It is to say, however, that small reactors could play a role in providing the reliable energy to parts of the world that have been denied such basic services in the past.___Source
I suspect that as small and modular nuclear reactors prove their safety and reliability for the more distributed, off-grid medium scale application, that more uses for them will be found.

The largest danger accompanying increased use of nuclear power is the chance that the fuel will be misused for weapons purposes--either dirty bombs or enriched nuclear weapons. Considering the far greater risks coming down the road from biological and nano-biological weapons, it is vital to place this risk of more widespread nuclear energy in perspective. By all means, keep track of radioactive materials. But be careful of all likely risks, not just one. And always weigh risks against benefits.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts