Back in the 1960’s there were several missed technology innovations that were completely overshadowed by the Apollo Moon quest. As I study newer technology today it always draws me back to the history of that technology only to find out we already developed it once before but never commercially leveraged it. I have mentioned the Thorium Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor technology in previous articles which should have been the nuclear energy path for the US, but wasn’t. Hindsight is always 20/20 but it was amazing how it was actually overlooked.
Now I have come across another project of the 1960’s that I would consider a major missed opportunity, especially for Southern California (droughts) as well as any other arid land area in the world. In the 1960s, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) carried out a fairly large number of investigations into the use of nuclear energy for purposes other than just the production of electricity. One of the major interests was the use of nuclear energy for desalination of seawater (producing fresh water for people and for crops)—and the studies into this concept eventually became known as Nuclear Agro-Industrial Parks.
Both of these ideas were buried in the technology documents of their time but both have re-surfaced in the last decade. The energy paths taken back then are now causing concerns of their negative effects on our planet’s biosphere. The nuclear path taken in the 1970’s created an issue of what to do with all the radioactive waste produced by the design and use of the Light Water Reactor.
The other path taken was an all out assault to use fossil fuels for our energy needs in industrial agriculture and manufacturing that required huge amounts of energy which produced harmful pollutants. Now we are faced with what to do about nuclear waste and what to do about excessive CO2 in our atmosphere and oceans. Clean energy, food and water are very serious concerns that need solutions to sustain the population for centuries.
In 1969 President Nixon (R) terminated the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) nuclear energy project in favor of the High Temperature Reactor (HTR) nuclear energy project for budgetary reasons. President Carter (D) later suspended the HTR project after the partial reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. The anti’s came out in full force after TMI and that was pretty much the demise of any future nuclear power technology development in the US until now (maybe).
Thank God the rest of the world stuck with new innovative nuclear energy research and development. Thorium, a mineral element found all over the planet, is now being considered as a liquid base fuel for next generation molten salt reactor designs by several nations. There is even proposed legislation in Congress to invest in new development here on our own shores too. Of course, the anti’s are fighting it all the way. If they win again, we, as a nation will lose again.
The 1960’s Bolsa Island Project (Google it) would have incorporated both a nuclear plant with turbine generators for electricity and heat for a large desalination plant capable of supplying a well planned Agro-Industrial Park and surrounding support communities with water and electricity.
The modern environmental approach to this park idea is now known as ecomodernism; moving a large amount of necessary production of energy, water, and food into dedicated centers such as were conceived in the 1960s. This new/old idea is now being implemented in the Negev Desert in Southern Israel using natural gas as the energy source and adding security for the surrounding area. This Agro-Industrial-Technology-Community base could use a couple of small modular MSR’s to eliminate the use of polluting NG. Some day they will.