Andrew Dodson is one of the smartest hackers I know. Our conversations typically happen over coffee and Go (the ancient board game). We talk about physics and simulation theory. In fact, he once loaned me Simulations by Jean Baudrillard and I never returned it (sorry Andrew!).
In episode 5 of Hacker Practice, I get started down a line of conversation I’ve been meaning to have for a long time.
I am deeply interested in sustainable technology. At the moment of writing I live on a small organic farm. My hands are literally dirty from playing in the greenhouse. No lie.
That’s why I spent most of this episode talking with Andrew about small-scale nuclear power. How can we do this on a farm or even neighborhood scale? Government regulation be damned!
Disclaimer: Andrew was calling in from a lab at MIT. There is a short interruption early in the episode that gives us a glimpse into a stealth nuclear startup at America’s best engineering school.
Learn the basics of nuclear power and more in today’s episode of Hacker Practice:
[2:45] Extreme Laser Tag – The greatest startup idea ever.
- TENS Units
- Extreme laser tag at low-orbit
[6:45] A welcome interruption from Dodson’s colleague, Matthias the super genius.
- Postdoc gerbils
- A brief peek inside a stealth nuclear startup…
[8:20] Andrew discusses boundaries necessary for working in startups
- “People show who they are in their face”
- “Startups can be… top heavy”
- “These faces raise money… to get real people you need to be real people”
[10:30] Molten salt reactors
- Ionic Compounds
- Alternative to traditional light water reactors
- Uranium fuel rods get hot, very hot.
- How neutrons bouncing around cause nuclear chain reactions in enriched uranium fuel rods
[17:20] Components of a reactor
[18:20] Why higher temperatures are desirable
- Why higher temperatures can be dangerous
- “Spray a bunch of people with steam… coming out of a pressurized water reactor…that you can’t see… it’ll cut you in half.”
- It’s all just a way to spin a pinwheel
[20:00] How to get started with nuclear engineering at home
- 3D Modelling and simulating the reaction
- Monte Carlo simulations
- CAE Linux (http://caelinux.com/CMS/)
- OpenMC (https://mit-crpg.github.io/openmc/)
- Serpent (http://montecarlo.vtt.fi/)
- The future of nuclear engineering is VR
[26:20] How could we put one of these nuclear reactors in your back yard
- In the early days, small cores were all the rage
- Highly enriched uranium is useful here (10-20 cm across)
- High quality uranium fuel is a “political risk”
- Where to find 99% enriched uranium
- Building a vehicle-sized nuclear bomb
[29:20] What about Fukushima? Chernobyl Three Mile Island
- They are blown out of proportion according to Dodson
- Fossil fuels kill millions every year. Relatively, nuclear is extremely safe
- Our generation (Y) needs to pursue this, NOW.
[31:25] Powering a farm with nuclear
- Security concerns
[34:00] An ideal world where security is not a problem
- Bury a cargo container with a reactor and turbine on the surface
- Power my neighborhood for 40 years
- Small reactors power aircraft carriers
- Nuclear engineering secrets (hint: they’re military)
[36:30] Sources of fuel-quality Uranium
- Different grades of Uranium (civilian, weapons, etc)
- How much Uranium costs per kilogram and where to get it
[38:30] Got the fuel, now what?
- Shielding considerations
- Burying the tank
[39:00] We built the reactor, what are my security precautions?
- During operation
- In case of a breach/leak
- Radioactive worms
- Basically: keep as much of it underground as you can
- Worst-case scenario
- Why you should eat plenty of spinach and fish
[51:15] Where to find Andrew (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Reach out to Andrew with the project you’re working on, it’s current status, and what your role is on the project.
Go and design a miniature nuclear power plant! Then tell me about it!