India to export thorium nuclear reactors

Tom James @ 22-09-2009

wheels_and_cablesCharles Stross highlights the news that the Indian government is preparing to manufacture and export nuclear reactors that use the thorium fuel cycle:

The original design is fuelled by a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium bred from thorium using fast neutron power reactors earlier in a thorium fuel cycle. The LEU variant is suitable for export because it does away with the plutonium, replacing it with uranium enriched to 19.75% uranium-235.

As countries like India and China continue to industrialise we will see more and more technological innovation from these developing countries. Both India and China are hungry for cheap energy to raise the standard of living for their people. This thorium reactor design is important because it can be used by developing countries with minimal industrial infrastructure:

The design is intended for overseas sales, and the AEC [India’s Atomic Energy Commission] says that “the reactor is manageable with modest industrial infrastructure within the reach of developing countries.”

The reactor design is intended minimise the threat of nuclear proliferation, as it does not produce the right amount of bomb-worthy plutonium-239, and the long-term high-level waste is also minimised. All in all, it looks like a really excellent piece of hardware, and a thoroughly Good Thing.

Thorium is more plentiful than uranium and offers the opportunity of a long-term low-CO2 energy base. I strongly suspect that when the brown-outs start there will be huge public demand for a solution, as it will be difficult for the UK to generate all its energy needs using renewables, and it could well be that the UK ends up buying thorium reactors from India or pebble-bed reactors from China to secure our energy future.

[via Charles Stross, from World Nuclear News][image from Shahram Sharif on flickr]


Living in the past… literally

Paul Raven @ 12-06-2009

a tomb in New DelhiVia Geoff “BLDGBLOG” Manaugh we discover that people in India long ago found a solution to a shortage of affordable housing – they colonise ancient tombs and monuments, much to the chagrin of archaeologists and historians.

The city [New Delhi] is also home to tens of thousands of homeless people, and millions more who are desperately poor. Many of the otherwise homeless have made the reasonable assessment that the stout marble walls of the tombs and shrines and mausoleums that litter the city make a much nicer home, especially in monsoon season, than the sidewalk.

Some seek only temporary shelter. But others such as nine families living inside a federally protected monument called the Atgah Khan tomb, built in 1566, are so thoroughly ensconced that they can produce title deeds going back generations. They have plastered the walls, had the crypt wired to run the television and installed a fine kitchen, with wood cupboards built into the handy arched recesses.

It’s a tough call to make; history must be valued and protected, but people have to live somewhere. How can you tell a homeless family that they can’t live in an otherwise unoccupied building – you, with your job in archaeology and your apartment to go home to? You do it because it’s your job, of course, and because you believe that history must be preserved – but it can’t be much fun. [image by varunshiv]

And as the world becomes increasingly urbanised, perhaps we’ll see this sort of behaviour occuring in comparatively affluent Western cities as the less fortunate arrive in droves to seek employment and shelter. Imagine the Lincoln monument thronging with a small town of migrants from the former corn belt, or the huge family tombs of London’s great cemetaries repurposed into ersatz condominiums, always occupied by a few of the family’s oldest and youngest members to prevent claim-jumping newcomers…


Better living through chemistry? Indian river water contains 21 pharmaceuticals

Paul Raven @ 27-01-2009

assorted pharmaceuticalsThe world is full of ironies. Many people can’t afford or get access to the drugs they need to make themselves well; meanwhile, others get more drugs than they need or want, whether they like it or not. In Pantacheru (near Hyderabad in India), recent samples of river water showed concentrations of an antibiotic high enough “to treat everyone living in Sweden for a work week”.

And it wasn’t just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet — a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

Those Indian factories produce drugs for much of the world, including many Americans. The result: Some of India’s poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.

Good old MSNBC… just in case the plight of the Indians didn’t move you, they reminded you of the drug-resistant nasties that you might encounter in your own country. This is the nasty underbelly of globalisation; industrial production moves to where it can be done most cheaply, regardless of what corners get cut in the process. Outta sight, outta mind, right? [via BLDGBLOG; image by Amanda M Hatfield]


BOOK REVIEW: Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster

Chris Hill @ 03-09-2008

Sagramanda - Alan Dean FosterSagramanda: A Novel of Near-Future India by Alan Dean Foster

Pyr Books, 2008, 290pp, $25, ISBN 1-59102-488-9

***

In the Indian city of Sagramanda, a scientist, Taneer, steals secrets from the multi-national biotech company he worked for and goes on the run, trying to find a buyer for what he has stolen at the same time as avoiding the inevitable retribution.

There seems to be an increasing number of science fiction novels by western writers set in non-western locales; Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk books and Ian McDonald’s River of Gods are obvious examples. As the economic future of humanity seems to be moving ever more in that direction, it seems inevitable that more sf is being set in the emerging nations. This brings its own dangers for western writers as they attempt to reflect the cultures of these countries in a way which neither patronises nor demonises them, but which simultaneously remains honest about their issues. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster”


Have Nano, Will Travel

Arun Jiwa @ 03-07-2008

The Tata NanoIn the future we we’ll all be driving small cars. That’s the hope of Indian automaker Tata’s newest car, The Nano. But for now, they’ve got to be able to market, distribute,turn a profit and get it out to consumers before they can really call it “The People’s Car.”

People in India get around in practically every way: by bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, scooters, bullock carts, cars and buses. This all sounds more or less ordinary, till you consider this: there are less people who get by on cars than there are people who get by on any other means transport. In fact, cruising down any street in India, you might see an entire family (ie. two children, wife and husband) on a single motorbike. Highly unsafe, right? This is what is driving the campaign behind the Nano. To create an ultra low cost, fuel efficient four wheeler for the millions of Indian families getting by the other way. [image by blackrat]

By now, I’m guessing you’ve seen the Nano or heard about it from one media channel or another. But what factors will help the Nano model succeed? Or fail? And will it be marketable outside of India? My prediction is the following factors will greatly determine the answers to the questions I’ve posed.

High inflation in India is eroding the purchasing power of the disposable income of India’s population. This should increase their sensitivity to changes in fuel prices. The fuel efficient label on the Nano could help it sell as an alternative to less efficient, more expensive vehicles. Then again, people may just decide to get along by other means, if fuel prices increase too fast or too much.

The other factor that may seriously limit the Nano’s appeal to the population has to do with parking space. India’s cities have high population densities, and in most of these packed cities parking space for four wheelers is seriously limited or nonexistent. A typical middle class Indian living in one of the big metropolises won’t have the luxury of a two car garage that is common in the West. In these terms it seems much more sensible to take a bus, catch a cab, or squeeze through narrow streets on a motorcycle.

However, if the Nano does sell well, we may see competition from other car manufacturers enter the fray and the age of the ultra-low-cost fuel efficient car coming to the world. What do other Futurismic readers think about this trend? Will we in fact see more low cost cars being produced? Will they take off in the West like Tata hopes they will in India?


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