BLOG: Robert Heinlein's nuclear power safety plan

Tom Jackson
Mar 14, 2011


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 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.




6079 Smith W

@ Mr. Jackson:

Nukes don't "blow up." 

Speakin' of Mr. Heinlein; I'd like to see someone film "Stranger iaSL" or the "Moon iaHM."

With advances in CGI, "Troopers" needs to be redone. I'd love to see the addition of the power suits.

France relies heavily on nukes and I've yet to hear anyone address it.



I grok that film concept, 6079. 


Heinlein was a genius, decades ahead of his time. 6079 Smith W, I'd also LOVE to see "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" made into a movie, but I'd hope it was done the way it was written: Strongly pro-liberty and anti-government control. I consider it one of the best pro-freedom novels ever written despite the fact it's been around for years!

If we're going to "beam" anything back from space, it should be microwaves. Solar power in orbit is far more efficient than solar power on the ground! But then you've got to deal with all of the sheeple who hear "microwave" and freak out without any other knowledge whatsoever. Good luck with THAT!



BW1's picture

Beaming power from orbit isn't practical,  The receiving antenna would have to cover (and render unusable) an area the size of Wyoming, and an error in aiming the transmitting antenna would be a disaster.

It's wise to be suspicious of any scheme that promises benefit without risk.  The universe doesn't work that way.

Peninsula Pundit

Why not put the receiving antenna in the wasted space of the Arizona desert?

BTW, the reason the receiver is so large is so the power does not have to be as concentrated.

So an aiming error would not be disastrous.

We have shown we can keep sattelites  aiming in one direction for quite a while.  Otherwise no sattelite operations would be stable.

I'm surprised at some of the names I see posting here.  I must admit I didn't believe that some of them had ever heard of Heinlein.  He was so liberal in some ways.

Captain Gutz

No need for a receiving dish, just use a space tether and bring  that  power down a cable.

6079 Smith W
@ PP:   Mr. Heinlein liberal? Classic liberalism or libertarianism perhaps.   During the late 60s and early 70s, many saw “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” as a rightwing novel, while “Stranger in a Strange Land” was viewed as a leftist work.     

“Starship Troopers” contains many fascist elements. For one, only those who volunteered for military service could vote.  


 The important bit in the story was the last few lines

The room rumbled and shivered as tons of molten, massive metal, heavier than gold, coursed down channels, struck against baffles, split into a dozen dozen streams, and plunged to rest in leaden receivers-to rest, safe and harmless, until it should be reassembled far out in space.

If that had been taken into consideration in reactor design surely Chernobyl and Fukishima should have just fizzled out.

For anyone who wants to comment or discuss this I have set up the facebook group

Blowups Should Not Happen

6079 Smith W

@ muchsake:

At present, under the Obama Administration's space program, building nukes in orbit really is SF because we don't have one!

The Orion Project and the Aries series of boosters have been killed and for an indeterminate amount of time we'll be hitchin' a ride with the Rooskies (who just upped the tab) to get to the ISS that was largely built with U.S. taxpayer funding.

Maybe we can eventually hitch a ride into orbit with our friends the Chinese?




brutus smith

 Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist End Poverty in California movement in the early 1930s. When Sinclair gained the Democraticnomination for Governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively in the campaign. Heinlein himself ran for the California State Assembly in 1938, but he was unsuccessful.


I bet the right wingers won't like him now, eh winnie?

6079 Smith W

@ Muffinbrain:

As usual, you suffer from selective reading:

"Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein made a drastic swing to the right politically at the same time he married Ginny.[9] The couple formed the small "Patrick Henry League" in 1958 and they worked in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, and Tramp Royale contains two lengthy apologias for the McCarthy hearings. Yet during this period Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which is generally considered to advance very liberal themes."