Taylor Wilson: My radical plan for small nuclear fission reactors

Taylor Wilson, is known as the boy who played with fusion, because at the age of 14 became the 32nd individual on the planet to achieve a nuclear-fusion reaction.

Comments:

  1. Well, we've been burned on a TED talk recently. I am reluctant to take this on face value, partly because of that.

    I'm also struggling with the "Good Will Hunting" fallacy, the idea that genius is something conveyed by genetics and/or magic. Talent is worth something, but as the past supply of knowledge and skill expands, the ability of young people to contribute to engineering and science tends to go down. It seems to me extremely implausioble that there can be a nuclear engineering prodigy.

    This kid gives no credit whatsoever to anyone else. So I am inclined to write this all off as handwaving at best.

    Not saying I'm absolutely sure there is nothing to it. But that's where my money is. I see absolutely nothing in the way of critical evaluation of his stuff anywhere. So he's 19, and flawless?

    This has the same breathless overvaluation feeling that Alan Savory's thing did, and then requires you to believe the strange idea that talent is something you are born with rather than something you develop.

    I am increasingly inclined to write off TED as a source of reliable information.

  2. As with most projects that have not yet been implemented at scale, there are hundreds of things that could go wrong and permanently derail them. Many things are feasible in the lab, but nowhere else. It remains to be seen if Taylor's reactor design will succeed in the real world.

    That being said Taylor isn't the only one talking about small scale reactors, many people involved with nuclear are just as excited about them as he is. This alone makes the situation different that Savory's talk, though still obviously doesn't guarantee it that is is correct.

  3. It's exactly my problem with this video that Mr Taylor doesn't mention those other people.

    I can't find any criticism of him anywhere, but nor do I see any especially credible testimonials either. It's all a bit peculiar.

  4. Dr. Tobis, you're statement above, "Talent is worth something, but as the past supply of knowledge and skill expands, the ability of young people to contribute to engineering and science tends to go down" is the most radical statement you've ever made. It flies in the face of both information and knowledge theory.

    Do you then assume that there is a finite sum total of knowledge in either engineering or science?

    It really is the most radical thing you've ever written.

  5. Perhaps I was unclear.

    No, I mean it takes more effort, all else equal, to get up to speed to where you can contribute effectively.

    It's not a radical claim at all.

    I'm not saying important science or engineering will not get done by people who are currently young. I'ms saying they should expect to put in a lot of time and effort before that is possible, more than their predecessors, because there is more material to cover before getting to the cutting edge.

    I'm saying the average age of a person at the time of his or her most important contribution will get higher.

    I am saying that is why the Taylor Wilson story smells fishy to me. I can't prove that it's all hype, but on looking for proof to the contrary I haven't turned up any of that either.

    I'm saying I'm skeptical. I'm also saying I'm horrified by the movie Good Will Hunting that tries to convince people that scientific genius is something you are born with. There is such a thing as talent, but it doesn't just spring into genius without cultivation.

  6. I hope you don't mind chasing a tangential line of discussion, Dr. Tobis. But surely the segmentation of technical domains into ever-narrower slices is the obvious response to the dilemma of ever-growing volumes of knowledge and information. It at least has been the common response over the past century, for good or ill. And the average age of published scientists is younger, not older.

    So your statement is both radical and revolutionary.

  7. It seems that what Taylor Wilson talks about in that video is real enough but that he may just over-value his own role (just a bit).

    Presumably, the Farnsworth fusor (designed in 1964) is what Wilson built. The article mentions that it can be built by hobbyists and has a picture of one made by a high school student (perhaps Wilson's?)

    Certainly impressive for a 14 year old (or most people of any age, for that matter) but perhaps not as impressive as the hype makes it sound ("only 32 people in the world have achieved fusion"). The article also mentions use of the Fusor as a handy source for neutrons, which is apparently the basis for the detector Wilson got an Intel Science Competition prize for.

    Oak Ridge scientists designed, built and ran (for 5 years) a small molton salt reactor a half century ago.

    Two PhD students at MIT have just started a company to build molton salt reactors very much like what Taylor Wilson describes and the article also notes that China is investing a great deal in developing their own molton salt reactors.

    One last note: someone should probably advise Taylor that "collecting" radioactive stuff may not be the best idea if he wants to stick around long enough to see his ideas through

    ... and that transporting radioactive material on airplanes (or other public transport) without proper shielding and labeling is a very bad idea and not merely "humorous", as the Pop Science article makes it sound. It might not be dangerous to him, but it could be dangerous to whoever handles (or perhaps even checks) his luggage and/or in the case of an accident.

  8. "And the average age of published scientists is younger, not older."

    Citation needed. And supposing you have one, you still need an argument that the date a publication record starts is a good proxy for the age when one makes a major contribution.

    In fact a lot of pedagogical effort goes into paving the way for relatively less sophisticated but real contributions. But even if the pathway to first publication has been eased, (or the pressure toward a first publication has been turned up) I think you are vastly underestimating the amount of skill and knowledge that goes into getting into a position to have an impact on the big picture. Which certainly fits in to how your naysayer friends look at climate, for what that's worth.

    It's flatly silly to suggest that I have any "revolutionary" intent in having my doubts that young Mr Wilson is an engineering force to be reckoned with, on the grounds that he could not possibly have enough experience to contribute substantially. It would be a peculiar revolution, the revolution of the elderly. Historically I've never heard of any revolution, literal or otherwise, that works that way. Call me "reactionary" on this one if you want to make me uncomfortable, which apparently is a major goal in your life for some reason.

  9. Many of you mention that molten salt reactor have been designed and used before, all of you are right, but you have missed the more important part of what Taylor is saying. It's the fact that the molten salt is produce from a down blended WEAPONS grade uranium and plutonium. He's never claimed to have created molten salt reactors.

  10. Well, the minor still needs more guidance for the topic because nuclear (High-power like 20% Uranium) is infamous even all people know the brief view for making atomic weapons, how to convert the daily needs from 20% Uranium at least in brief which can be found on physics teaching material.

    The person still need to find the suitable ratio to reduce the waste we made as the used still useful, but only few people know how to speed up the cycles of half-life (Normally Half-Life for the infamous, very long, can be 30 Years at least. If successful, then the cycles can be deduced to a reasonable value like 7 years without harming any.)

  11. The best thing about this kid is that he can talk and sell his ideas. Even if they are not new or original. And, even if he gives nobody credit. A lot in the science community can't do that and often rely on the media to interpret for them. I think we are all aware that ehe media is not good in the interpretation department and hence we get terms like "global warming".

    Starting a new company and gathering up the financial resources to get enough of a critical mass for product takeoff is just as important as an original and scientifically supported idea. It helps an awful lot if there happens to be a Ford, a Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk in the mix. Science is shiny and attractive in itself but it's not terribly practical until someone sells it for a profit.

  12. Taylor never said he invented any of the items that constitute the whole of his concept. He said he "designed a new system" that, as a complete unit, accomplishes a number of goals; 1. It's mass producible, 2. It's safer (running at atmospheric pressure and having a neutralizing containment vessel that stops the fission process), 3. It helps rid the world of nuclear weapon waste, and, 4. It produces more power than current reactors. Nowhere in his speech did he say that nobody has, is or will ever design a different type of or better molten salt reactor, he just put the pieces together and created something that could be produced in a factory, shipped, buried, and plugged in. Give the kid a break. What were you doing at 19?

  13. I think the kid is amazing! I like Harmon's comments above; "What were you doing at 19?"
    I believe Taylor will be a fantastic contributor to the world and the little I've seen of him I'd be willing to put money down on any company he was involved with. He is an incredibly smart kid. If his reactor works as he claims, and if the world would get behind it, it could be the answer to stopping global warming, the spread of nukes, using up nuclear waste, inter planetary travel, electric cars, and many other things. When I was 19 I didn't really have a plan for those things. He's got a chance at a long life of developments ahead of him and I wish him excellent success. We could all really use what he is suggesting. I'd like to see the prototype built also.


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