Concept Overview

Why we need energy, why it needs to be clean, and what brings us to nuclear power.

The problem that everyone on the planet faces is global warming. And while there are many smart people both supporting and denying how significant changes are (or what our contribution has been), the fact is that for the past 250 years, if you take out changes during known volcanic activity (each of the dips in this graph), the planet has been getting steadily hotter.
A few fractions of a degree doesn't seem like much, but in 2012 James E. Hansen calculated that this growth was equal in energy to detonating 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year. Since then, the energy imbalance has only continued.  Using the same metric, one report has equated ocean temperature rise during the past 19 years to detonating 1 such atomic bomb per second for 75 years (Gleckler et al. cited in Borenstein (2016))
James E. Hansen. "Why I must speak out about climate change," TED 2012. Accessed Jan. 2016
Peter J. Gleckler, Paul J. Durack, Ronald J. Stouffer, Gregory C. Johnson & Chris E. Forest (2016). "Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades." Nature Climate Change (2016) Accessed Jan. 2016
Graph is attributed to: Berkeley Earth, Summary of Findings. Accessed Jan. 2016
Borenstein (2016). "Man-made heat put in oceans has doubled since 1997." Yahoo News. Accessed Jan. 2016
But we can't simply stop or cap energy use and it's growth. Not when almost half the planet lacks access to the energy necessary for a basic quality of life.
Figures and proceeding, noted graphs
Allan Mazur. Energy Consumption, Electricity, and Lifestyle in Industrial Nations. Syracuse University, Center for Environmental Policy and Administration. July 2010. Accessed Jan. 2016,
Cesar Pasten, Juan Santamarina. Energy and Quality of Life. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology. Dec. 2011. Accessed Jan. 2016,
When quality of life is defined using indices on the left, there is a clear, positive relationship between quality of life and energy use.
Cesar Pasten, Juan Santamarina. Energy and Quality of Life. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology. Dec. 2011. Accessed Jan. 2016,
Even in developed nations where quality of life and energy access are high, rising energy costs have unintended consequences. In the U.S., when energy prices were their highest, so too was the income gap. At the same time employment stagnation was at it's worst.
Graphs accredited to: 
Gail Tverberg. "The Close Tie Between Energy Consumption, Employment, and Recession," Our Finite World. Sept. 2012, Accessed Jan 2016.
As in much of the world: coal, oil, and natural gas are by far the largest energy sources in the U.S.

Source: Formby, M. (2016) Energy Needs and Sources.
But these fuels are more limited than they appear. If the entire world were to consume half as much energy as the U.S., using these cheap fuels, known world stockpiles would run out in 44 years.
Despite 40 years of clean energy investments and attention, solar and wind power still need time to develop. This isn't to say they're bad solutions, but that with current technology they aren't yet able to competitively replace fossil fuels, including natural gas, on their own.
If we're serious about clean energy-- or even energy independence and our own living standards, we should be replacing fossil fuels with energy that can last. But the go to renewable energy sources, wind and solar, would require immense investments, even more expensive energy, and potentially changes in how the current grid works. While what seems to be the cheapest solution is yet another carbon emitting fuel- natural gas.
Daniel Botkin. Powering the Future. New Jersey, 2010. FT Press.
No energy source is completely safe. This graph, provided by Dr. Kerry Emanuel (Atmospheric Scientist at MIT), shows a comparison of related deaths per kilowatt hours produced for each energy source. That includes pollution for coal and radiation deaths from nuclear. There are a few things to note: First, the four biggest clean energy sources (hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear) are a fraction of world coal, oil, and biofuels. 
Second, biofuel and biomass (which are renewable and a primary source of energy in parts of the world) are substantially worse than coal in the U.S. (because these fuels have their own associated pollution).
And third is that, despite all the attention on nuclear safety: hydro, wind, and solar are substantially more dangerous per Kilowatt hour produced. For wind and solar this has to do in part with how much total energy is produced by individual installations and how dangerous it can be to work at the heights of the best placements.
Without a cheap, abundant, and clean energy that developing nations can afford, carbon emissions will continue to rise regardless of what is done in developed nations.
Muller, Richard. "Energy for Future Presidents" New York, 2012. W. W. Norton & Company.
Expensive solutions are counterproductive and ultimately hurt those they're meant to help. While ultimately clean and affordable energy is needed.
This is why many people are taking a second look at nuclear energy as a carbon-free, abundant, and affordable energy solution. The energy policies and stances in China and India are only just a couple examples. In recent years, concerned about the slow international response to climate change, prominent climate scientists such as Tom Wigley, James Hansen, Ken Caldeira and Kerry Emanuel have been calling for a re-evaluation of nuclear power.
There are serious concerns that come up with nuclear. But part of the problem is that we've been using the same nuclear technology for decades-- without fully implementing new understanding of safety and fuel use.
While there haven't been any truly new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. for decades, the nuclear science community has not stopped researching safer and more efficient designs. Designs that, like the Prism reactor, are made to burn plutonium and so called nuclear waste.
Information and quote on Transatomic Power copied from
TAP website,
And; Transatomic Technical White Paper v. 1.0.1, published March 2014, Accessed Jan. 2016
The old and established light water reactors still in use today rely on their limited access to water and external forces to take heat away from the reactor. If the generators responsible for cooling fail, these designs rely on operators to fix the problem. Safer designs exist; ones that ensure the fuel is naturally cooled until the reaction stops, and placements that ensure abundant access to cooling water in the event of any disaster. The old generation was never meant to remain in operation as long as it has, and will. And it shows in the growing number of tragedies and stockpiles of spent fuel.
Some experts in the field are looking at offshore placement to solve or lower many of these persistent issues.
Russia has looked to make a fleet of floating nuclear power plants for years, and more recently China has moved to have an operating floating nuclear power plant by 2020. And even in the U.S. MIT professor Jacopo Buongiorno has proposed it for inherent safety benefits including avoidance of tsunami (by being out far enough, the wave force is substantially lower), and access to what he refers to as a near infinite heat sink. The image, provided by Dr Buongiorno, is a conceptualization of how the MIT floating power plant may appear.
The concept of offshore nuclear has been looked at before though, most notably with the Atlantic Generating Station (AGS). It was going to be a massive construction project (and all was going well for it) but when energy costs for oil skyrocketed in 1973, demand for energy in general stagnated. Ironically, it was the rising cost of it's competitor that ultimately shut down the project in 1978 because it relied so heavily on constantly growing energy demand, including demand from offshore oil platforms.
In an effort to increase consistency in safety and cost, there is a lot of research being done on 'small modular reactors.' A single "module" can be built and shipped from a well equipped, staffed, and trusted facility.
Each module is completely responsible for fuel, reaction, cooling flow, and spent fuel containment. Making them safer and more trustworthy especially for use in developing nations without nuclear capability.
But the best of both Offshore placement and Small Modular Reactors can be reached by doing what the navy has been doing for years. With all of the benefits to safety and cost of standardized production, truly modular design, and abundant cooling. It's rarely mentioned but the navy has operated nuclear reactors at sea for decades without incidents like those which have shaken confidence in commercial nuclear. 
Apart from capacity, naval reactors aren't inherently different or safer than their commercial counterparts. Their safety is achieved through their practices, standards, and experience. And, they do have one advantage in addressing the biggest risk of land-based nuclear reactors, overheating through loss of coolant, because all naval nuclear reactors have the inherent advantage of the infinite heat sink provided by being under water.
A power plant modeled after a naval nuclear submarine offers many benefits including standardized safety, production, and maintenance. Such a power plant could be developed under the supervision of the navy (the only entity in the U.S. that still has the capacity to produce substantial nuclear reactors).
A ship like design ensures proven, efficient, and safe production in a controlled, fully equipped environment with the best, fully trained and experienced technicians. All the benefits of mass production means a safer, more reliable power plant that's easier to build and repair--there's no wonder or uncertainty, and no worry if a station's safety has been managed well.
Perhaps the greatest reason for a ship-like construction is ability to respond quickly to a need for clean energy.
A problem faced by the U.S. and other nations that have turned away from nuclear is that no local industry has the capacity and experience needed to build safe nuclear power plants. Making nuclear an unrealistic option even if a fully safe and waste free reactor were designed and publicly accepted.
But the liberty ship offers a reasonable analogy for the benefits of standard, centralized construction. Once procedures are established, ship-like construction can allow rapid, world scale clean energy production.
Naval supervision and security, possibly using a Merchant-Marine model would guarantee adherence to best safety practices, and provide military grade security. At the same time, the public would benefit from careful, competitive leasing of the navy's understanding and supervision for the design of these underwater nuclear power plants.
While the greatest part of world energy needs could be met through leased or bought stations in developing nations, hydrogen fuel and distilled water could be generated from available seawater to further meet the energy and fresh water needs of these nations. Additionally, with sufficient clean energy, carbon emissions from transportation (nearly 28% of all energy use in the U.S.) could be completely eliminated. This would be possible through highway electrification, which would charge electric cars while driving-- solving the persistent range problem and allowing the use of less costly batteries.
Of course there are reasonable objections-- concerns about the cost and safety of nuclear power under water. To answer these concerns we've talked with a number of academic experts and students of nuclear power, and will continue to research on the safety, technology, and cost of all clean energy. Foremost in our initial research was Dr. Sastry Sreepada, naval nuclear propulsion expert and professor in practice at RPI. While supporting the conceptual viability, he emphasized these remaining concerns.
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