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Atomic energy technology, politics, and perceptions from a nuclear energy insider who served as a US nuclear submarine engineer officer

Atomic Show #270 – Fastest Path to Zero

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 09:25

Suzanne (Suzy) Hobbs Baker serves as the Creative Director for Fastest Path to Zero. I recently spoke with Suzy and Steve Aplin, a consultant to the Canadian nuclear industry and frequent Atomic Show guest, about the work that Fastest Path to Zero has done and plans to do in the near future.

Fastest Path to Zero is an important initiative in the effort to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Here is their concise self-description from the About page of their website.

We are an interdisciplinary team of experts, including University of Michigan staff and students, working to support communities as they plan and pursue ambitious climate goals. We offer a variety of  tools to help communities transform their energy systems while adapting to a changing climate. Our tool belt includes big data analytics combined with a passion for human-centered design and engagement. (accessed March 27, 2020) Diversifying nuclear industry by adding sizes

Suzy had an another commitment, so she had to depart early. For the second part of the show, Steve and I talked about micro modular reactors that might find their initial customers in the northern, often First Nation, communities in Canada.

He provided an important perspective on some of the unique opportunities and challenges that developers might face when seeking to deploy their systems to serve that diverse, and quite small market.

We also discussed how nuclear system development in multiple sizes and configurations increases the usefulness of nuclear fission and diversifies the nuclear industry.

Nuclear industry organizations that specialize in large projects should not feel threatened by the influx of people whose talents and philosophical focus make them more suited to rapid deployment of much smaller systems involving smaller teams and serving customers with smaller power or heat needs.

I hope you enjoy the wide ranging discussion. Your comments and feedback are always appreciated.

Note: I apologize the occasional audio interruption. Systems like Skype are getting more use than usual a means of maintaining personal connections across social distance. Even in the virtual world, traffic can cause unexpected and uncomfortable slowdowns.

Atomic Show #269 – Robert Bryce, A Question of Power

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 10:21

In the modern world, countries need a reliable electricity grid to prosper. Globally, demand for electricity is growing as a result of population growth, new ways to use electricity, and the effort to spread access to electrical power to a greater portion of the world’s population.

For the past four years, Robert Bryce has been intensively studying the electricity business, which he describes as the world’s second largest industry by revenue, trailing only the fossil fuel industry. He calculates that global annual electricity sales total approximately $2 trillion. He traveled to a number of different locations to learn how countries, states, cities and even individual businesses are creating, transmitting and using electricity.

His resulting book, A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations, was released on March 10, 2020. By the time it had been released, the world was in the throes of responding to the coronavirus and his well-planned book tour had been essentially cancelled.

I had the opportunity to talk to Robert to find out what he had learned about the electricity business and to to discuss some of the key findings in his book.

We discussed the big five in data processing – Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – and how their electricity needs have affected each one’s business decisions and location preferences. Together, they are already using 20 terawatt hours per year.

We talked how legal and black market marijuana farmers often produce their products in intensive, year round, indoor grow operations that consume approximately 800 W per square meter of building space.

We talked about a resort in the Lebanese mountains that obtains all of its electricity from a microgrid with solar panels and lead-acid storage batteries.

And we discussed the paradigm-shifting development of Oklo’s Aurora powerhouse and the company’s recently announced application for a combined license to build and operate the showroom floor model of the facility sometime before the end of 2024.

We also discussed the continuing importance of coal as an electricity generating fuel, the growing importance of natural gas, the impressive and successful effort to reduce the cost of wind and solar as generating sources, and the importance of nuclear energy today and in the future as all countries seek to improve the cleanliness of their electrical grids.

I think you’ll enjoy this conversation. As always, your feedback and commentary are welcome.

Atomic Show #268 – Jigar and Jake

Sun, 03/22/2020 - 12:11

Oklo Power recently announced that it had filed the first non-light water reactor combined license application ever submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Their 1.5 MWe fast spectrum, passively safe reactor represents a complete paradigm shift for nuclear energy.

It’s not a big, slow to build, hugely expensive project requiring complex financing structures. It’s a generator that will be built inside a power house occupying less than 5,000 square feet of space. No credible accident has been found that will cause a release of radioactive material or that will cause an increase in radiation levels outside of the confines of the power house.

In recognition of the importance of Oklo’s announced progress, Jigar Shah, the founder and president of Generate Capital and Jake DeWitt, a co-founder and the CEO of Oklo contacted me and asked to have a chat that would be an update to Atomic Show #247, published in Oct 2015.

I’ve been thinking about restarting the Atomic Show for several months; this request was just the motivation I needed to get moving.

As longtime Atomic Show listeners might remember, Jigar offered some tough love advice for the nuclear industry in terms of its need to rethink its political engagement strategy. As a leader in the renewable energy industry, Jigar has long been in favor of clean energy that includes nuclear, but he has often wondered why the nuclear industry isn’t easily identifiable and accessible when votes need to be counted to arrange supportive deals.

Jake and Caroline Cochran, Oklo’s co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, are often lonely voices inside of the nuclear industry when they work to explain the importance of establishing a framework that can support rapid deployment of advanced reactor projects. They are not terribly interested in science projects that produce a certified design to add to the growing inventory of options that no one is buying.

They are focused on designing, building, owning and operating a fleet of generators that can supply electricity, heat and perhaps additional products for customers that are not interested in owning or operating power plants. They know there are some enabling changes to be made and have been seeking to build alliances that can work together to enact the changes into law.

But their real focus is driving forward at the rate that private capital can sustain without waiting for the slowly moving legislative processes to catch up.

I think you will all enjoy the conversation between two aggressive clean energy business leaders.

Oklo has filed first combined license application (COLA) with the NRC since 2009

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:53
Aurora artist rendering (Image credit: Oklo)

Oklo, Inc. announced yesterday that its combined license application (COLA) to build and operate an Aurora at INL was undergoing acceptance review at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Key project specifics

Oklo’s Aurora is a 1.5 MWe liquid metal fast reactor with heat pipes to move fission heat out of the reactor core and into the secondary power generation system.

The complete system will be housed in the basement of the Aurora powerhouse. Oklo expects to spend approximately $10 million to build the complete power plant and structure. That cost doesn’t include fuel or land; both of those will be leased from the Department of Energy under separately announced programs. The requested license and the initial fuel load both have a life of 20 years.

The expected operating cost for the first of a kind generator is $3 million/year. No licensed operator will be required during normal operation; two trained site monitors will maintain the powerhouse and the secondary power generation system.

After the plant has completed its scheduled operational period, used fuel will be returned to the DOE, the power station will be decommissioned and the permitted site will be vacated.

As part of the application process, the company has made a commitment to purchase appropriate financial assurance instruments to cover expected decommissioning costs.

The application covers five potential sites at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Four of the five are just outside of the fence for the Material Test Facility (MTF) and one is separated by less than a mile from the MTF. Aurora sits on approximately 1/4 of an acre of land, but a laydown area and parking facilities increase the size of each site to approximately one acre.

According to the submitted Final Safety Analysis Report (FSAR), the exclusion zone, the low population zone and the emergency planning zone for the reactor are all defined by the powerhouse walls. Extensive safety analysis did not identify any credible event that would release fission products or increase radiation levels outside of the building.

Splash opportunity lost

Embedded in yesterday’s announcement was the fact that Oklo submitted its COLA during the week of March 9-13..

It’s likely that the company had timed its submission to make a splash at the NRC’s annual Regulatory Information Conference (RIC), which was scheduled for March 10-13. That event, with approximately 3,000 registered attendants, would have been the best attended U.S. nuclear industry gathering of the year. Unfortunately, it, like so many other interesting and important events was cancelled to reduce the potential exposure of attendants to the COVID-19 virus.

There is little doubt that announcing the COLA during the RIC would have created a flurry of reactions from both nuclear industry insiders and from the energy press that normally covers the RIC. I regret not having had the opportunity to witness and participate in the buzz around the bar at the Bethesda North Marriott.

Important markers laid down

Even though the well timed splash never occurred, no one should overlook the importance of Oklo’s ground-breaking announcement. For the first time since 2009, a company has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review an application to build and operate a nuclear electricity production facility.

There are several additional progress markers associated with this submission. It is the first non-LWR (light water reactor) COL application ever. The company submitting the application is not a standard utility company, but a newly formed, wholly owned subsidiary of a venture-funded start up company founded in 2013.

The application filed is a prototype for a new license review process that has yet to be formalized but has been under development for several years at the NRC. Internally, it is referred to as a Part 53 process.

Aside: That nickname is derived from the current Part 50 and Part 52 processes. It’s unclear what happened to Part 51, if there ever was such a designation. End Aside.

Though there is still a lengthy journey ahead, Oklo has already broken some barriers and created a new paradigm. It should be abundantly clear that fission has the potential to serve energy markets that are not either huge central station electric power plants or military ships.

It is also becoming clear that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has internalized the guidance given by Congress and the Administration in recently enacted legislation. It is striving to regain its position as the world’s best nuclear regulatory body, with “best” having a expansive meaning along several different vectors.

Fission can improve mental health by alleviating climate doomsday thinking

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 10:51

There are countless stressed people who have been convinced that we are facing an existential crisis as a result of global heating driven by increased concentrations of carbon dioxide.

In contrast, I get more excited and enthusiastic with every passing day. And, no, I do not take drugs or live a cloistered life. I’m deeply involved with my community both online and in real life. I’m also an actively engaged grandparent who is excited about the future for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.

While I accept climate science, believe the models that show the potential effects of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and fully comprehend the nearly impossible task of altering the routine behavior of billions of residents of Planet Earth, I’m aware that effective tools are nearly ready for market introduction and rapid deployment.

These tools enable the production of abundant clean energy that can eventually be accessible to everyone. The available resource base of fuels needed to supply these tools is large enough provide both the energy needed to power society for thousands of years of increasing prosperity and the power required gradually correct the damage done by centuries of treating the atmosphere as a zero cost waste dump.

Nuclear fission is the enabling technology. The tools for using it are not limited to the same machines your grandfather learned about and that we are still operating today.

Though many may disagree with my thesis, I am convinced that a path requiring modification or replacement of thousands of power sources has a better chance of success than one depending on alterIng the behavior of billions of people.

Generally applicable truths about existing nuclear plants

In almost every available source of information about energy, nuclear plants are described as almost overwhelmingly expensive and difficult to construct. In works produced by authors that favor nuclear energy, those assumed characteristics are justified by the durable facilities, reliable output and emission free nature of the power.

Nuclear energy proponents routinely cite the vast number of labor hours required for each enormous project, but they often describe that characteristic as an advantage by talking about the numerous well-paying jobs that are created during the project design, approval and construction phases.

Nuclear energy opponents focus on high costs and delayed schedules, but they rarely acknowledge that the majority of the costs associated with nuclear power are in the form of solid wages and family-sustaining salaries paid to their fellow citizens and taxpayers. That money does not disappear and does not get concentrated into the coffers of multinational fossil fuel corporations.

Aside: This characteristic might be one of the reasons why nuclear energy opponents can accurately point to the lack of interest on the part of “Wall St.” to invest in nuclear energy development. Vendors haven’t produced outsized profits and investors have not realized generous capital gains. End Aside.

Older nuclear plants that are complete and operating are having difficulty justifying their continued existence to their corporate owners. The product those plants manufacture and sell is wholesale electricity. For the past dozen years, dating to a dramatic fall during the Great Recession, there has been a continued growth in supply capacity in a market with a flat or slowly growing demand.

As can be learned in any entry-level economics course, abundance in supply in absence of demand leads to low prices. That is even more true when the product in question is difficult to stockpile and must be used at the instant it is produced. Sustained low prices lead to lower total revenues, particularly for facilities that have minimal ability to increase their rate of production.

Basic economic theory holds that low prices driven by a market imbalance will eventually correct themselves. That happens with a combination of increases in demand caused by customers finding new uses for products that are more affordable to use and higher cost suppliers choosing to exit the market.

Low market prices are driving nuclear plant owners to closure decisions. Closing nuclear plants helps to correct the market imbalance and may restore wholesale market prices to a more profitable level for all production facilities that continue operating.

That natural market behavior gets confusing to outside observers when the suppliers that choose to exit seem to be some of the cleanest, highest quality, lowest cost sources in the market.

The overall message many informed people receive is that nuclear isn’t going to provide much help in addressing future energy needs or in addressing global atmospheric carbon dioxide budgets.

The conventional wisdom is a reasonably accurate picture of what nuclear energy is, but there are numerous reasons I believe that conception isn’t an accurate portrayal of what fission can be.

Fundamental truths about nuclear energy

Actinide fuels – a term that includes uranium, plutonium and thorium – contain about 2 million times as much energy per unit mass as petroleum. That is the next most concentrated fuel per unit mass. To visualize that advantage consider the fact that a pound of uranium contains as much potential energy as 30 standard tanker trucks full of oil.

Because actinides are dense metals, a pound of uranium occupies 53 cubic centimeters. That’s a sphere slightly larger than a standard golf ball (40 cm^3)

That energy dense fuel contributes to the fact that nuclear power systems need substantially smaller amounts of input material – including consumed fuel – per unit of energy output than other power sources.

Nuclear fission has the potential for impressive cost reductions and improvements in the amount of time needed to deliver additional power once the decision is made to make a new investment.

Making fission less costly

With some exceptions, several generations of nuclear designers and operators did not place a high priority on cost control.

That changed in 2008, when the combined effects of the shale revolution and the global financial crisis lowered the market price of natural gas by a factor of 3-4 over the levels that were common during 2003-2008.

A whole generation of mid-level nuclear engineers and nuclear business innovators has been inculcated with a different awareness of cost than the one that influenced previous generations.

Though still understanding the importance of creating, operating and maintaining safe systems, they are aware that they must address cost effectiveness. If they don’t, the technology that attracted their interest will fade away as customers opt for cheaper competitors.

Two primary avenues exist for substantial cost reductions.

One path focuses on radical simplification that can eliminate the potential for system damage from postulated situations. If engineers, operators and regulators can be convinced that there is no potential for any damage, they can be convinced that it’s safe to eliminate the multiple layers of active safety systems designed to mitigate the postulated damage.

Another path focuses on improvements to fission reactors that can enable higher operating temperatures and more efficient heat conversion cycles. Many of the reactor technology improvements are also aimed towards more efficiently using actinide resources. Light water reactors use just 0.5%-0.7% of mined uranium.

Improved resource efficiency can reduce the amount of material mined, enriched and fabricated per unit of electricity or heat produced. It results in smaller quantities of highly radioactive waste needing careful storage and eventual permanent isolation. Improved cycles can reduce the duration of required isolation from several thousand years to roughly 300 years.

These improved cycles can reuse or recycle some of the fuel materials that have previously been categorized and stored as “waste.” That’s why it’s more common to hear nuclear professionals referring to nuclear waste as future fuel.

Nuclear energy system designers are incorporating technological advances from fields outside of nuclear energy to make their systems more attractive. They are working to reduce initial capital costs, to capture and analyze more operating data, and to improve their ability to effectively address public and regulatory concerns.

All are keenly aware of the fact that replication is a key path towards lowering costs. They know that scale economies do not result from driving towards ever larger unit sizes. Instead, they come from scaling the entire enterprise of supply, training, and project management.

It’s often said that countries should seek to “standardize” their nuclear programs by focusing on just one or two specific designs. In a country with an energy supply system as vast as the United States, that advice is likely to be counter-productive.

Vendors should seek to stabilize and standardize their own designs to take advantage of series production economies, common training, standard licensing processes, and interchangeable parts. But there is sufficient market need for clean electricity, heat and motive power to allow a variety of solutions to compete.

Examples of exciting advanced nuclear developments

It wouldn’t help improve anyone’s mental state if I failed to point to specific examples of the improved fission power systems under serious development.

Here are two brief overviews of projects that have captured my attention and revived my own thinking during the past several months.

NuScale and UAMPS

NuScale is a fifteen year old start-up company that grew out of several research projects at the University of Oregon. It has designed a standard module that produces 60 MWe. NuScale filed a design certification application with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December 2016.

All indications are that the review has been progressing on schedule with a final approval expected by the end of 2020.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is lined up to be NuScale’s first customer for a 12-unit (720 MWe) power station that should be complete and operating on a site within the boundaries of the Idaho National Laboratory sometime in the 2026-2028 time frame.

NuScale’s application required 12,000 pages. It represents an investment of more than 2 million engineering hours and cost more than $500 million.

While the NRC has been reviewing NuScale’s application the company has been working diligently to create an effective supply chain of component and material vendors. As the probability of successful review has increased through the various stage of the process, that effort has intensified.

Oklo and INL

Any day now, Oklo will be formally submitting a combined license application (COLA) for its 1.5 MWe sodium cooled fast reactor. The company has an site use agreement with the Idaho National Laboratory. If the review proceeds as planned, the license might be issued within 2 years and construction might be completed within a year or two after that.

That news might be shocking to people who have not been paying close attention.

Oklo isn’t a well-known name, but the company has earned its credibility through quiet, but effective engagements with national laboratories, the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

At a recently conducted Advanced Reactor Summit, Jake DeWitt, the company CEO and co-founder, gave a detailed presentation on his company’s license application status. It might have sounded incredible to some in the audience, but it was closely followed by a presentation from the NRC’s Daniel Dorman that supported Jake’s statements.

Unlike several advanced reactor developers that chose to take their designs outside of the US, Oklo chose to work with with the NRC to develop a process for reviewing and approving applications that describe advanced technology with a different safety case from the standard large light water reactor.

The payoff of their engagement investment can be illustrated by comparing their application to the advanced light water-cooled SMR designed certification application (DCA) that NuScale submitted a little more than 3 years ago.

NuScale submitted their application under a “design specific review plan” that was a lightly modified version of the Standard Review Plan (SRP) applied to conventional light water reactors. That SRP is more than 4,000 pages long and has countless references to accumulated guidance. As mentioned above, NuScale’s DCA required 12,000 pages.

The NRC-Oklo agreed process for their very small sodium cooled fast reactor system was based on fundamental design criteria, written regulations, and a vendor described safety case.

Oklo’s DCA will be approximately 500 pages long. If application weight is an indicator, the level of effort required has been reduced by a factor of 24.

History isn’t destiny

There are many skeptics who claim that they cannot trust the nuclear industry to deliver on promises to reduce cost and accelerate schedules. They claim that the industry has made and broken promises for those identical improvements in the past.

But the improvements being undertaken today seem quite real and productive. Perhaps the nearly complete demise of the industry has made it possible for new thinking to be more acceptable and has silenced the voices of those who used to be able to say “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

Though nuclear technology is as hot and as exciting as its always been, it would be difficult to find anyone inside or just slightly outside of the industry who claims that it is healthy, vibrant and growing.

There are real signs of vibrancy, and they have a chance of flourishing in today’s environment.

That is a very good thing. Our common perception of the future of humanity will be far brighter when nuclear fission begins fulfilling its natural potential.

Investing in atomic fission to make world a better place

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 12:38
Fission’s sun is rising

An increasing number of major corporations and famous individual investors have announced plans to make their money work harder to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

These plans are not about philanthropic giving. The individuals and organizations believe that careful targeting of their money can produce both financial and social returns.

By investing in companies and entrepreneurs seeking to address and solve real problems, their returns can be made more durable and predictable than if they simply follow fads or back the latest bright and shiny phone ap.

With few exceptions, however, impact investors – the generally applicable term for people who invest their money in ways designed to improve multiple bottom lines – have avoided atomic fission.

While everyone knows that Bill Gates started investing a portion of his immense income stream into TerraPower more than a decade ago, most of the fission developers I know have been struggling mightily to find sufficient backing to rapidly develop and deploy their products.

It’s time to change the paradigm and work to reverse the effects of 60+ years of negative propaganda.

Fission Works

Entities that sincerely want to ensure a healthy environment must be reminded that atomic fission works well. Since 1956, fission has been producing reliable electricity without any associated air pollution or carbon dioxide emissions.

It uses fuel materials that are abundant and rarely used by other industries.

If impact investors want to put their money to work and have an immediate positive impact on the world’s energy supply and its greenhouse gas emissions profile, they don’t have to wait for the technology to be developed.

Currently operating plants produce vast quantities of electricity without pollution every day. Some of them are economically challenged, but could be improved and “fixed up” if more investment dollars were available.

Fission has a bright future

Some investors have shied away from atomic fission opportunities because they have been convinced that fission is obsolete. Maybe they think fusion is the future.

Meanwhile, there are some bright fission folks who have been diligently working to remove barriers and straighten the paths towards successful new fission ventures.

A formerly firm assertion was that it takes 10-20 years and a billion or more dollars to develop a new fission power system, obtain permission and complete construction on the first unit. One of the more lengthy and indeterminate parts of that process was the regulatory process.

But within the next few weeks, Oklo, a small start-up company that was founded less than 5 years ago, will submit an application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The expected review time for that application is approximately 2 years.

This extraordinary development is the result of quiet, diligent, intelligent effort to peel off layers of bureaucratic habit and return to fundamental principles of ensuring safe and reliable system operation.

Oklo founders chose not to follow the frequently offered advice to go to China if they wanted permission and support for their product. Instead, they chose to help the US NRC polish its “gold standard” and develop a reasonable, repeatable process for reviewing and approving refined technology.

Oklo isn’t alone as a nuclear system developer. The trail it has blazed so far will be followed by an uncounted number of additional developers who have designed their systems with the factual knowledge and systematic understanding that has been accumulated during 70 years worth of fission system invention, development and operating success.

Waste isn’t as unsolved as we’ve been taught

Everyone – including investors – has been taught to worry about fission waste and told that “no one” knows what to do with the material. We’ve been taught that the material will be hazardous for longer than the accumulated experience of human history.

But the reality is that used nuclear materials are carefully stored and isolated from the environment. After a period of cooling in a deep tank of water, used materials are placed into dry storage containers. Experience and detailed engineering reviews have convinced regulators that the dry storage systems will provide adequate protection of the public and the environment for a century or more.

Fission technology has been used in more than 1000 power systems –including naval vessels. Operations began in 1953. No one has ever been harmed by exposure to improperly handled used materials left over from power plant operations.

That safety record is extraordinary, and it’s reproducible. It comes from understanding the nature of the material and using simple methods to protect people and the environment.

A number of companies produce reliable storage systems today. Several of them are nearing completion of application reviews for sites that will allow them to consolidate the material from a number of power plant sites. Those sites will keep the dry storage systems on or near the earth’s surface where they can be monitored, repaired or replaced as needed.

Taking advantage of developments in other fields

Several companies, including Deep Isolation, are working on ways to achieve deep geologic material disposal without the controversy and cost of building a single centralized repository for each country.

They’re using one of America’s most well proven core competencies. We have an industrial sector that has drilled well over a million holes into the ground. Some of the most sophisticated can aim bits into selected geologic layers that are only a few feet thick through more than 10,000 feet of rock and sand.

For current purposes, the drilling industry chooses layers with high potential for holding natural gas and oil, but they can just as readily choose layers that have no such potential and have been stable for hundreds of millions of years.

A commonly understood trait of existing US nuclear plants is the fact that their control rooms are filled with analog equipment that most other industries replaced decades ago. After many years worth of effort, there are finally some indications that nuclear fission power plants are entering the digital era.

Reluctance to dump analog equipment has had its advantages. Unlike so many other industries, nuclear is relatively isolated from network vulnerabilities. Though there have been some well-publicized efforts to infiltrate some of the limited connected systems at nuclear plants, those attacks have never posed a significant risk to plant safety or reliability. Air gaps offer solid protection.

But traditional analog devices have real disadvantages as well. Innovative, creative thinkers who are knowledgeable about atomic fission and power plant needs have developed hardware hybrids that combine features of analog and digital components.

Details are beyond the scope of this article, but some of the systems now being introduced offer vast potential for reducing the effort required to maintain old systems. They also offer the potential for efficiently converting the isolated measurements formerly recorded by manual log keeping into useful data that can be quickly processed to provide insights for maintenance and operations.

Fission can directly replace combustion

Unlike many of the more popular and publicized alternatives to fossil fuel combustion, atomic fission is a source of controlled heat. That means that it can often do the same jobs that fossil fuel has always done.

In many cases, it’s possible to replace just the fossil fuel-burning heat sources in a system with a fission based heat source. Major portions of existing industrial infrastructure can thus continue operating, but without producing the harmful emissions that come from burning mined hydrocarbons.

Ocean transportation is one of the most polluting sectors of our current economy. It is responsible for approximately 6% of global carbon dioxide emissions and a much greater share of sulfur dioxide emissions. That’s because it has been allowed to burn the cheapest, dirtiest, bottom-of-the-barrel products. Out of sight, out of mind.

Nuclear fission has been powering reliable naval vessels since 1955, but most of the trial and demonstration programs to use fission in commercial ships were abandoned by the early 1970s when oil cost less than $5 per barrel.

Those demonstration programs were not technical or even economic failures; there simply did not develop the momentum required to overcome focused opposition from competitive fuel suppliers.

Even though ocean shippers have good reasons to be skeptical and slow to adopt unproven technology, there are well-proven and fully tested ship propulsion systems that could be introduced into the commercial shipping market. Impact investors could help develop the political decision process to enable this environmentally beneficial product to be marketed.

If you are concerned, take action

Most impact investors would put themselves into the concerned category. They know there are challenges in the world. They know that human activities harm the environment and that some human activities pose a significant future threat.

They also know that money has power and that a lot of money moving in similar directions can have a lot of power. When the monetary flows are directed with purpose by people who really want to make a difference that power can do a lot of good.

Fission is a powerful force. It can do almost unimaginable good when properly influenced and directed. Let’s make an impact. It helps when we use the best available tools.