December 30, 2015

Cars that run on water, windmills dotting the countryside, solar panels on every home in America—these are just a few pie-in-the-sky notions those hippie libs have concocted to help save the environment. But there’s another one that’s been gaining traction lately: nuclear power. Yes, scientists and tech entrepreneurs, many based in California, are coming together under the unlikely tent of nuclear power to combat the threats posed by climate change. It even has President Obama’s support in the form of his “all of the above” strategy to develop clean forms of energy. Here’s everything you need to know about what the techies are doing to reinvent nuclear.

This ain’t your daddy’s reactor

When people think about nuclear power in California, the image of that very, um, well-endowed plant at San Onofre comes to mind. More of these enormous plants with their dubious safety records (San Onofre was shuttered in 2012 due to radiation leakage) are exactly what environmentalists don’t want. But today’s scientists have no intention on modeling nuclear power sources on past systems. They maintain the technology is there to do nuclear smaller and safer. How small? Some envision reactors small enough that they could be transported in a pickup truck. How safe? “Meltdown proof,” according to Jacob DeWitt, CEO of energy startup UPower.

Small nuclear has big backers

As mentioned above, Obama is all for it, so much so that he held a nuclear power summit in November. It was there he announced a budget allocating $900 million for advanced nuclear development. But it isn’t just the President who’s supporting the nuclear initiative—tech heavyweights like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and PayPal’s Peter Thiel have opened their wallets and donated billions to R&D programs for zero-emission nuclear power.

The skeptics respond

Not everyone is viewing the future of nuclear energy through such rose-colored glasses. Experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists have their doubts. They say that proponents of clean nuclear energy have made big promises before, ones that they couldn’t live up to. They say the technology isn’t there to guarantee a fully meltdown-proof reactor. But the young guns in the field, such as 31-year-old nuclear engineer and co-founder of Cambridge energy start-up Transatomic, politely disagree. They maintain that not only is their technology capable of creating a walk-away safe reactor, but it will be cheaper than coal and run on existing nuclear waste.

So far, California Governor Jerry Brown has been mum on the subject of nuclear, opting to spend his time at the U.N. climate talks in Paris touting the state’s other zero-emissions works in progress. What do you think, is nuclear a viable component in future green world?

Featured image courtesy of Physics Frontline


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