The Future is Not for the Timid

I know I was supposed to be continuing with my series on Heat and the neat tricks nuclear reactors of all sizes use to manage it. However, it turns out that trying to condense a field of study that has been Vigourously worked with for over 200 years and has become basically the foundation of all aspects of modern society into 2000 words or less is extremely difficult. So that will have to wait while I become a bit more topical today.

I want to touch on the recent announcement from the current Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney. He announced the intention to sign on to the SMR MOU that was drafted and signed between Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick back in December of 2019.

This one.

I’m not going to say anything about Jason Kenny’s statement itself because until there is actual action taken on it, it is just words, which have about as much binding power in them as a gate with no latch. No, what I want to talk about is a specific part of the response to the announcement from the public.

Of course there are the usual suspects complaining about there being no solution to waste, the dangers of radiation, weapons, explosions, poverty, corporate overreach and all the other standards talking points espousing Fear, Uncertainty, and Disinformation that have been regularly pointed out to be misleading, incorrect or just plain baseless. But there was one argument that stuck out to me as particularly egregious in light of the purpose of the announcement’s goal of diversifying the economy of Alberta.

And right now, there is no approved small reactor design anywhere in the West, and no mature industry to make them.

Look Over There! Jason Kenney’s Phoney Nuclear Power Distraction – David Climenhaga Aug. 13 2020

Electricity experts and nuclear power proponents believe it makes sense for Alberta to study the concept, but also point out no such facilities have been built in Canada.

Alberta Studies nuclear power again – this time, it’s small modular reactors – Chris Varcoe Aug 11, 2020

This is a new argument that I’ve seen starting to rear its head in the debates about SMRs. “We can’t build SMRs because we don’t have the ability to build SMRs, so we should just stick with what we can already build.” It’s an interestingly annoying bit of tautological fear based reasoning that something new might actually upset the status quo and change things. And it pisses me right off.

How many people reading this have ever had a good idea, something you were really excited about? And then when you told someone else they dismissed it with a line something like “If it was such a good idea, why hasn’t anyone done it before?

I was a researcher before I started doing this work at ANN and that question makes me want to Scream. You might as well mock someone for trying to learn to draw, or paint, or cook. It implies that nothing that you can do has any chance of being worth anything, that all the new things have already been found and that you should just be happy with what exists already. We already have enough, there is no need to do more things, don’t look behind the curtain, don’t question, don’t explore, Just Don’t.

This kind of argument is not even an argument. It is a statement, made by those who fear, that their fear is more important than anything else. More important than curiosity, more important than opportunity. More important than you and your ability to decide how you want to continue with your life. It offers no alternatives, and brooks no argument. The saddest part is that it is such a flimsy position to take that the only way it can support itself is if no one actually challenges it.

Especially when the counter to this tripe is so common sense that a 4 year old can figure out. We don’t have the infrastructure to build these SMRs? Then Build the Infrastructure! Run the experiment, test the hypothesis, expand your knowledge and skillsets. If you’re worried that the industry that comes out of this MOU will be located somewhere other than Alberta, and we will have to buy things from elsewhere (like we already do with solar panels and wind turbines)? Then lobby to build the factories here so the money flows into Alberta rather than out of it.

And guess what, things might not work out. The experiment might not work out like we hope. Yes, taking a gamble on something new at this level of investment required is scary, but we were just talking about how fear is a poor reason to make any decision. True, not all of the benefits might end up here, but if we shut down the attempt at even trying to bring them here before we even start then they are guaranteed to go elsewhere. If we want Alberta to be a Leader on the world stage like so many people have said then we actually have to, you know, Lead at something. And leading means that we should be the ones to take that first step into the uncertain future.

I could say more but I think I will leave that to John de Lancie who says it better than I ever could.

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