Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Fission reactors are basically big steam engines. What all that futuristic physics amounts to is a fancy way to boil water. This is done by bringing concentrated fissile elements into close proximity to accelerate the process of “nuclear fission,” the breaking up the atomic nuclei of heavy radioactive elements to convert a small amount of mass into kinetic energy. By maintaining a controlled “chain reaction,” the plant creates steam and drives turbines that make electricity. So far, so good. But there are some unfortunate side-effects and potential failure modes that made Chernobyl and Fukushima more famous than they ever intended to be. Moreover, even when a plant’s systems sta y within control, there is the inevitable generation of dangerous radioactive isotopes and materials from which nuclear bombs can be made (for which reason fission plants are restricted in order to prevent warhead proliferation to more state and non- state actors). It’s very hard to account for the reprocessing products of nuclear fuel rods, and even a few nuclear warheads in the wrong hands is bad. There are high- and low- level “radioactive wastes” that result from the operation of fission reactors, and in some parts of the world – notably the USA – no real way of dealing with them at present. Once fuel rods have been used, or “spent,” they have become a witch’s brew of dangerous substances, far more toxic than before they were used. Currently, for every curie inside a US nuclear reactor, there are far more sitting in, what are essentially, swimming pools on the reactor grounds, vitally dependent on flows of cooling water, not all that heavily guarded, and awaiting a wealthier future whose citizens will presu mably “do something” with them. Discussion of fission power is highly polarized, with most “studies” on its economics and energy qualities done either by those who make money building them or by those greatly concerned about nuclear accidents and waste, in about a 2:1 ratio. There is, thus, a “tribal” effect with most people already having an opinion about whether fission power is a good idea or not. (Sidenote: DJ’s dad was in advertising, and created the public educational materials for a series of utility fission reactors in the Midwest in the 60’s and 70’s, which included a grade- school PR class with an ugly puppet named “Mr. Heckler” who brought up problems with fission power, while the students were encouraged to shout him down. DJ’s dad knew absolutely nothing about nuclear power.)

Aside from those basics,

● Fission plants are a very big-ticket item with huge upfront costs and slow payback, taking many decades to recoup initial costs. The cost of the plant construction is far greater than the cost of the electrical


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