Wired posted from their September 2004 print issue :Wired 12.09: Let a Thousand Reactors Bloom, about pebble-bed based nuclear reactors, that are safer that liquid based one, and scale differently too. More info here
And on a related note: Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends posted Nuclear Energy to Go, DOE designed self-contained, tamper-resistant nuclear reactor that can be transported and installed anywhere in the world, which would last 30 years and deliver between 10 and 100 megawatts. (also here on Space Daily
Or the furture could be based on Cold Fusion, which might make it back into the mainstream. Clearly something was happening.
Why is any of this important? We need Energy to run any kind of technological culture (unless you want to kill off 2/3rd’d of the human population and go back to the 1700’s in lifestyle, life expectancy and governance?) The environmental costs of fossil fuel is becoming clear (it more a matter of when we paid the costs and how high they are, not if). Conventional Nuclear energy has problems with safe operation and disposing of high radioactive waste (both are issues of perception more than fact) and convention Fusion has made gains but is still 20 to forty years off (and has been for 40 years; It’s like the joke about Brazil : the country of the future and always will be ; sorry Brazil). We have done a much as we can we Hydro without huge environmental side effects. Solar and Wind are important but are unlikey to delivery more the 20% of your energy needs. Conservation is important, and need to be supported, but again is at best at marginal gain.
Oh, and Hydrogen ain’t going to help. You still need energy to generate all the Hydrogen. Hydrogen will reduce the side effects of running all those planes, trains, boats (ships) and cars.
In the short run it’s either a) current nuclear and live with the worries or b) reduce your Consumption by 70%. (One of the biggest anti-nuc people people I ever knew, also had the bigest electronics gear collection!), c) burn coal and hope the ice caps don’t melt in my lifetime.
In the medium term we need to figure out safe(r) fision like pebble-bed based nuclear, and long(er) term : fusion (hot or cold).
Update: a nicely done written up from Gene Expression, with additional links/info