Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nuclear Trucking

Pebble bed reactor scheme (italiano)Image via Wikipedia

I have received several reports about how the price of gasoline will likely soon increase, if for no other reason than because the oil that BP was expected to produce wound up in the ocean instead. This affects more than just the cost of driving your car to the next city. Quite a lot of commerce is shipped by diesel powered trucks and trains. They, too, must pay it or run out of gas.
But gasoline, be it traditional or diesel, is not the only way to power a vehicle. Trains have the option of running electrically from either an overhead line, or a third rail. Electricity is pretty cheap, and is far less subject to these sudden price swings. (Most US electricity comes from coal, which is cheap and steady.) Trucks don't really have that option. (Roads can not be retrofitted to supply the vehicles that travel over them with electricity.)
Since we're unlikely to massively overhaul our collective rail system, I propose a nuclear-powered truck. Cargo trucks are huge. So huge that they can have a small CANDU-esque pebble-bed reactor. The reactor is foolproof. Pebble-bed style nuclear reactors literally cannot melt down. The reactor powers large banks of batteries, which run an electric engine. With a supplemental solar-panel on the truck's roof, I think the truck could run for most of the day, with no gas-ups. Trucks must regularly stop for the driver's sake, as drivers get hungry and tired, and safety regulations require regular food breaks and sleep breaks, noted in the truck's log. (The truck would charge the batteries while halted.)
When not shipping, trucks should be taken in for maintenance, which would include removing the old fuel pellets and replacing them with new ones. The old ones would contain plutonium, and would have to be sequestered as nuclear waste, given to Idaho's nuclear laboratory, or fed into a breeder reactor. Maintenance would also tune-up the electric engine, and likely replace the batteries as well. (Batteries have a limited useful-life.)
This system would, unlike our current petroleum infrastructure, be maintainable with only national resources. Yes, the US has oil, both on land and underneath the coastal waters. We literally cannot extract it fast enough. Anyone claiming that we can is severely underestimating the number of vehicles on the road.
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