Sustainability and the role of smaller cities

Friend of Media Nation Catherine Tumber, with whom I worked at the Boston Phoenix, recently published an important essay in the Boston Review on how revitalizing smaller cities — think New Bedford, Lowell, Lawrence, Holyoke — could help lead to a more sustainable future. She writes:

When it comes to the urban-rural divide, small-to-intermediate-size cities may offer the best of both worlds. For all the rural romanticism of the ’70s-era homesteading movement — or for that matter, the vaunted folksiness of “small-town values,” — urban life has its allure. Smaller cities are large enough to offer the diversity, anonymity, and vibrancy of urban culture, as well as levels of density that offer efficiencies of scale. They are also small enough to maintain proximity to sustainable food production and renewable energy resources.

Well worth reading in full.

A nuke in every town

This could be the most important story of the year, if not the decade. According to the Guardian, scientists at Los Alamos have developed technology to build small, cheap, safe nuclear power plants that can power 20,000 homes.

According to reporters John Vidal and Nick Rosen:

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The article is a bit superficial. There’s no mention of what happens to the waste, and no explanation of why the lack of moving parts ensures that it’s safe.

As for why we shouldn’t worry about terrorists making use of these, we get this quote from John Deal, head of the company that plans to manufacture these mini-nukes: “Temperature-wise it’s too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.”

I’m not impressed.

Still, if the safety and terrorism concerns can be properly addressed, this sounds like one of the great technological leaps forward we need to solve both the energy and the global-warming crises. It’s very exciting, and I hope the sudden re-emergence of cheap oil doesn’t make such advances too financially risky. (Via Howard Owens’ Twitter feed.)