My wife pointed me to an article suggesting that the EU wants to give Iran a nuclear reactor to try to dissuade the mad mullahs from continuing their own nuclear program. This offer/payoff will be rejected because Iran clearly wants nuclear weapons, not just nuclear power. (As an aside, is it a good policy to bribe rogue nations to prevent them from building weapons? What message does that send to tyrants?)

Although I don't think this is a viable approach to the Iranian problem, it's a good opportunity to link to the US Department of Energy's SSTAR project: the small, sealed, transportable, autonomous (nuclear) reactor.

A nuclear reactor that can meet the energy needs of developing countries without the risk that they will use the by-products to make weapons is being developed by the US Department of Energy.

The aim is to create a sealed reactor that can be delivered to a site, left to generate power for up to 30 years, and retrieved when its fuel is spent. The developers claim that no one would be able to remove the fissile material from the reactor because its core would be inside a tamper-proof cask protected by a thicket of alarms.

Known as the small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor (SSTAR), the machine will generate power without needing refuelling or maintenance, says Craig Smith of the DoE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Cheap, reliable nuclear power would be a God-send for developing nations, and I hope the DOE is still pursuing this technology.

In an SSTAR the nuclear fuel, liquid lead coolant and a steam generator will be sealed inside the housing, along with steam pipes ready to be hooked up to an external generator turbine.

A version producing 100 megawatts would be 15 metres tall, three metres in diameter and weigh 500 tonnes. A 10-megawatt version is likely to weigh less than 200 tonnes.

The US will deliver the sealed unit by ship and truck and install it. When the fuel runs out it will collect the old reactor for recycling or disposal. The DoE hopes to have a prototype by 2015.

There's no reason why American cities couldn't purchase similar reactors to supply their power, and a network of small power generators like these could really spur progress towards the idealistic "hydrogen economy".

Here's more, "Nuclear Energy To Go", and here's an article about how useful small nuclear reactor technology would be to our military.

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