The New Atomic Age We Need

Peter Thiel writes in the NYT about The New Atomic Age We Need

While politicians prepare a grand bargain on emissions limits that future politicians are unlikely to obey, a new generation of American nuclear scientists has produced designs for better reactors. Crucially, these new designs may finally overcome the most fundamental obstacle to the success of nuclear power: high cost. Designs using molten salt, alternative fuels and small modular reactors have all attracted interest not just from academics but also from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists like me ready to put money behind nuclear power.

However, none of these new designs can benefit the real world without a path to regulatory approval, and today’s regulations are tailored for traditional reactors, making it almost impossible to commercialize new ones.

For all the improvements in solar power for space applications, settlement of Mars will ultimately depend on compact, self-contained, reliable nuclear power systems (something we will explore in Book 2). Developing them on Earth for terrestrial applications would be an amusing turnabout of the usual “space spinoff” justification for space exploration.

I do love the comments on the article, though. Especially the one that complained that nuclear power isn’t zero-carbon because of the energy involved in making the building materials, the operatino of equipment used to mine uranium ore, and the power used to refine and enrich the uranium for power production, which the commenter informs us all employ fossil fuels. One is meant to conclude from this comment that the use of fossil fuels is somehow inherent to all of these activities, when in fact nuclear power itself can provide all the necessary electricity – no fossil fuels necessary. One is also meant to conclude erroneously that solar (and wind as well) magically do not require the expenditure of energy, fossil or otherwise, in the mining of rare-earth metal ores, their processing, and the construction, servicing, and comparatively frequent replacement of solar panels and their supporting infrastructure. This is actually a very common misconception/lie on the part of people who push alternative energy – like people who oppose hunting because meat should come from a supermarket and not from animals, they criticize the costs of other options while overlooking or dishonestly denying the same costs in their own preferred alternative.

Public comments on articles like this are great illustrations of how poor our critical thinking skills have become. Faced with an unfamiliar bit of science or technology, too many people respond with emotional incontinence and superstition, substituting regurgitated talking points, poorly-comprehended “factoids”, and conspiracist epistemology for a reasoned consideration of the facts – while simultaneously rationalizing their blind, ignorant terror as “scientific”. Don’t be like these people. You should always think for yourself – but remember that the key part of that is actually thinking.