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BLOG: Robert Heinlein's nuclear power safety plan

Tom Jackson • Mar 14, 2011 at 1:51 PM

The ongoing tragedy in Japan, including the problems caused by damage to nuclear reactors, has refocused attention on nuclear safety in the U.S. As this Propublica.com story reports, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has asked for a study on whether U.S. nuclear power plants are vulnerable to a similar disaster. Americans also have to worry about possible terrorist attacks.

Markley also brought up the tornado in 1998 that knocked out power to Davis-Besse. ProPublica says that when that happened, diesel generators kept the plant running until the power lines were fixed.

All of this reminds me of "Blowups Happen," a science fiction story that Robert Heinlein, the famous American science fiction writer, published in 1940 in "Astounding Science Fiction," a pulp magazine which in those days was the leading publisher of American SF. Writing years before nuclear power plants become a reality, Heinlein suggested putting them in outer space, so that if they blew up no one back on Earth would be hurt.

Obviously, building reactors in space and beaming the power back to the surface would be very expensive, but it's an interesting idea.

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