Friday, February 05, 2010

Prediction, reviewed

In December 2008 Obama fingered Stephen Chu to be the new Secretary of Energy. This got me in such a good mood that I made a bunch of "predictions", things that might be done right. Maybe these were more along the lines of wishful thinking.

Somehow, all this wishful thinking no longer seems wishful.
  • Yucca Mountain shutdown. They did it! The idea of Yucca Mountain was to build a geological repository for spent nuclear fuel. Sounds good, except:
    • Nevada didn't want everyone else dumping their waste in Nevada.
    • The stuff they wanted to bury was spent nuclear fuel from our light water reactors. This stuff is physically hot! These reactors fission hardly any of their fuel and breed almost as much non-weapons plutonium as they burn uranium. [Edit: it's actually the fission products that make most of the heat, and so it doesn't matter that the reactors aren't fuel efficient.  My bad.]  As a result, the stuff that comes out pumps out prodigious amounts of heat for decades, making it very difficult to cool via conduction through solid rock. Storing it aboveground in air cooled containers next to the reactor is a much better idea.
  • As an addendum to the Yucca Mountain thing getting shut down, they've appointed a commission to come up with a new nuclear policy for the US. Per Petersen is on that commission. He is a professor at UC Berkeley who understands the advantages of a fluid-fuelled reactor, and is also doing really good research in how to get there in a practical manner.
  • NASA just canned Ares-I, Ares-V, and Orion in favor of spending that development money on multiple private-sector launch systems that will ferry people to the ISS. What a great idea! This is an astounding choice, one that I talked about four years ago in one of my most popular blog posts ever: Why Merlin 2?
  • Mandating short-term demand management for air conditioners and other heat pumps. This hasn't happened, but at this rate, I guess I won't be shocked if it does.
  • Standardizing recharable batteries. In particular, I had in mind cellphones. While this itself hasn't happened, Europe has standardized the cellphone charger, and that's a good step in the right direction.
I suppose I should have some new wishes. Let's see:
  • I'd like to see at least four of those umpteen nuclear plant license applications actually turn into plants being built. I'd like to see hard hats and concrete.
  • I'd like to see the Sierra Club or Greenpeace change to a pro-nuclear stance.
  • I'd like to see the Federal government "make jobs" on projects that make long-term wealth, not just jobs.

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