Mini-Nuclear Reactors: A Cheaper, Risk-Free Solution? Small Modular Nuclear Plants: A Cheap, Risk Free Solution?

Could small, modular nuclear reactors really be a clean, affordable, and safe energy solution?

As the nuclear crisis continues to drag on in Japan, the loudest criticisms of nuclear energy all hinge on the potential for a severe meltdown and the subsequent release of a massive amount of radioactivity. Besides this terrifying potential, of course, there are a handful of other reasons why nuclear power is often panned. What do we do with the radioactive waste? What about nuclear fuel getting into the wrong hands? And, how the heck can we afford to build enough large-scale nuclear plants when no private banks dare finance them?

There is, however, another form of nuclear power that isn't often discussed but, nonetheless, could possibly address the big four "Big Nuke" concerns listed above. Climate Central put together a great interactive graphic that lets you explore this "Small Modular Reactor" technology, and I definitely recommend it.

Here's Climate Central's Michael Lemonick introducing the technology:

Called Small Modular Reactors (SMR's), these plants, which have been proposed with a variety of designs, would be inherently cheaper to build and safer to operate than conventional plants, for a variety of reasons — or at least, so their proponents argue. They may be right, but so far the nuclear industry hasn't had enough real-world experience with any of the proposed designs to know how well their performance lives up to their theoretical promise.


Here's the graphic, though you should click through to explore the whole operation.

You can also see how they compare to the large-scale operations that everyone thinks of when they think of a nuclear plant. Each 10 Megawatt modular unit could power about 7,000 homes, compared to the one million homes that the biggest current plants can power.

I expect that we'll soon see some communities and regional governments start to explore this technology. It's carbon-free electricity and—depending on how you feel about the nuclear "batteries" that get shipped out to be recharged (never opened at the reactor site)—they could be considered totally non-polluting. At very least, there's no local air pollution from the reactors. And because there's so much less radioactive material in each plant, the threat of a massive release of radioactivity is essentially none.

All that said, this is a radioactive facility. We'll need to learn a lot more about precautions and safety measures that could be implemented to avoid the leakage or loss of any radioactive material at all. I'd love to see an analysis comparing the total radioactivity of one of these units to that which is emitted from a typical coal-burning plant.


Two years after its opening in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired a painting by Sarah Miriam Peale — its first work by a female artist. More than a century later, one might assume that the museum would have a fairly equal mix of male and female artists, right? But as of today, only 4% of the 95,000 pieces in the museum's permanent collection were created by women.

The museum is determined to narrow that gap, and they're taking a drastic step to do so.

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via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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The World Health Organization is hoping to drive down the cost of insulin by encouraging more generic drug makers to enter the market.

The organization hopes that by increasing competition for insulin, drug manufacturers will be forced to lower their prices.

Currently, only three companies dominate the world insulin market, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. Over the past three decades they've worked to drastically increase the price of the drug, leading to an insulin availability crisis in some places.

In the United States, the price of insulin has increased from $35 a vial to $275 over the past two decades.

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Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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The Planet

Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, whale populations have been steadily recovering. However, whales in the wild still face other dangers. In the summer of 2018, four Russian companies that supply aquariums with marine animals captured almost 100 beluga whales and killer whales (aka orcas). After a public outcry, those whales are swimming free as the last of the captive whales have been released, the first time this many captured whales have been released back into the wild.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a drone captured footage of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales crammed into holding pens in the Srednyaya Bay. The so-called "whale jail" made headlines, and authorities began to investigate their potentially illegal capture.

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