Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Thursday, June 19, 2008

  Mccain proposes 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030

As reported in the NYT, McCain just proposed that the US build 45 new nuclear power plants before 2030.

The article - and apparently McCain - failed to note that nearly all of the existing 109 nuclear power plants in the US will be past their design life by then. So - if we were a sane country and actually paid attention to what engineers and mechanics told us about hardware - we'd actually retire those 109, leaving us with a net deficit from where we stand today of 64 plants, which (stay with me here, I know that basic addition and subtraction are hard for the average politician or reporter) leaves us with more oil and coal dependence than what we have today.

I anticipate that we will run the existing plants past obsolescence until another accident inevitably occurs.

This reminds me of something of something McCain said during the debates earlier in this electoral season. he said:

"We have got to achieve energy independence, oil independence in this nation. I will make it a Manhattan Project, and we will in five years become oil independent."

This statement is not only absurd on its face, but the Manhattan project is the wrong metaphor. The Manhattan project spent billions of dollars, and labored for 5 years to produce two - count 'em - two bombs - that ultimately capped world war II. The aftermath and spin-offs from that research and development led to the first commercial nuclear power plants, but it took a very long time to ramp up, with the peak of construction in the late 60s.

I'd prefer a politician propose something more like the Liberty ship construction project, where, by constant refinement of the production techniques, Henry Kaiser and teams of engineers throughout the country cut the manufacturing time from 230 to only 42 days, over less than 3 years. That was just the time from start to finish - as ships were being laid down in parallel, by 1943 we rolled 3 new ships off the quay every day.

We need to get away from custom designs and into mass production.

Mass production used to be an American virtue. Perhaps it isn't anymore. Perhaps all we are capable of anymore is massive, wasteful, one-shot projects, full of sound and fury, accomplishing nothing. A few hundred handmade fighters here, a few dozen bombers there...

A mere 45 new nuclear power plants won't help.

About my only hope for this energy "debate" would be for Obama to propose a reasonable number of nuclear power plants, like, 1000... and to truly retain the American lifestyle, one with a high performance electric car in every garage, 10,000 might be the right number.

Some level of realism regarding our energy requirements is called for. I'm not expecting any until we are reduced to watching television by candlelight.

There are alternatives - like solar and wind - that would benefit also from a "Liberty Ship" approach. Right now, solar cell production is being impacted by chip manufacturing more than anything else. Although the silicon shortage is easing - demand outstrips supply. If the cost of supply were to drop from its present level, solar power would become far more competitive.

I note that any nation could (theoretically) get into the silicon manufacturing business. I wish more would try - after manufacturing, the biggest expense is transport - every nation, particularly those located near the equator, should have sufficient supplies of sand to start with. Creating solar cell grade silicon is less demanding than chip quality...

I do wish we could invent a machine that could be powered by a politician's promises, but more, I wish Americans still understood the advantages of mass manufacturing.

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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