Chernobyl, 25 Years Later

The challenges of that crisis are the same Fukushima presents

5 min read

26 April 2011—Twenty-five years ago, the day the commentary of the Chernobyl catastrophe reached the West, I was in Washington, D.C., covering one of the annual meetings of the American Physical Society. A leading nuclear physicist was dragooned to speculate in front of a hushed audience about what could have gone so terribly wrong. His tentative explanation had to do with an obscure phenomenon called ”Wigner energy,” which I had never heard of and which I found hard to understand.  Evidently it was an undesirable energy release that can occur in reactors containing a lot of graphite.

That night, sitting at the bar of the funky little hotel I like to stay at when I’m in D.C., I discovered that the man sitting next to me was none other than Walter S. Sullivan, at that time the most eminent science journalist in the United States—considered by some to be the ”Dean” of science journalism. Sullivan, a charming fellow, was able to explain to me what Wigner energy was all about.

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Practical Power Beaming Gets Real

A century later, Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true

8 min read
This nighttime outdoor image, with city lights in the background, shows a narrow beam of light shining on a circular receiver that is positioned on the top of a pole.

A power-beaming system developed by PowerLight Technologies conveyed hundreds of watts of power during a 2019 demonstration at the Port of Seattle.

PowerLight Technologies
Yellow

Wires have a lot going for them when it comes to moving electric power around, but they have their drawbacks too. Who, after all, hasn’t tired of having to plug in and unplug their phone and other rechargeable gizmos? It’s a nuisance.

Wires also challenge electric utilities: These companies must take pains to boost the voltage they apply to their transmission cables to very high values to avoid dissipating most of the power along the way. And when it comes to powering public transportation, including electric trains and trams, wires need to be used in tandem with rolling or sliding contacts, which are troublesome to maintain, can spark, and in some settings will generate problematic contaminants.

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