Futures Salon: The Future of Nuclear Energy

For tonight’s discussion, we are using the following articles as reference:



We being this conversation with a large group of engineers. So where to start? With nuclear as a whole? Or perhaps with thorium reactors directly? How viable are thorium reactors in general?

Thorium reactors have the potential to solve a strange “fear” – the meltdown, the waste, the “danger” – PR and world events have highlighted/focused on the doom and gloom – 4th generation nuclear reactors are great advancements over previous technology, offering solutions to these problems. However, waste of a thorium reactor is relatively comparable to that of an older nuclear reactor. We must remember that the most volatile reaction for nuclear waste is the most readily spent, so our storage issue is still one that must be addressed.

Thorium reactors have an interesting characteristic – they cool with molten salt, which while very efficient, requires specialized materials to handle and pump it. Thorium itself is rather abundant in India – so what does that alter in geopolitics. Where else is there a large concentration of thorium? The moon. Will this become a new target of economic interest? How will this change current space policy.

So why do we not see these reactors everywhere? Why are nuclear reactors and thorium reactors not commonly adapted? Cost. Running cost. Construction time/cost. Coal fired plants are complicated but simple machines. But while nuclear reactors just “boil water”, it is a very complicated way to get to that power output. There are large capital costs against nuclear plants along with continued extensive operating costs.

How have we not heard of an accident or a meltdown from France (who receives about 70% of its power from nuclear)? All of the plant designs are the same. Training programs are uniform, the plants are designed for effective and safe operation, and the people who run them can easily go to any other plant. The government runs and trains staff for these plants and therefor the operating procedures are optimized.

While the French made an oversight system with one general nuclear plant model, other nations all designed unique specifications and training programs under each different utility company, so it produced a “chaos” in the operation system. Once a company or government entity built and owned multiple units, they learned how to operate effectively and efficiently.

So how about waste? What do the French do? France reprocesses out all of the waste product, reforming it into new fuel products. Are we going to then reach a stage due to global warming/emissions issues/CO2 release that we have no option other than to turn to nuclear power, accepting any negative? Is there a zero carbon solution? Current research suggests that there must be a buffer for renewable sources such as wind/solar/geothermal to provide power all through the day, 365 days a year. That buffer currently looks like nuclear, but a Nobel Prize awaits one who can come up with that solution.

Right now, we need to be searching for a lower cost, zero carbon power solution – but nuclear in the near future seems destined to be a prominent piece in the power puzzle. Batteries, an item with a cost model based on scale, and the grid structure itself will both need to improve, refine, and grow in efficiency to solve this complex problem. But how will we pay for it? The investment already made the energy grid will have to be made again, if not doubled again, in order to build that future. Extensive government investment will be required to bridge into these new pathways.

How will the electric grid need to adapt to these systems? Will the grid need to splinter into many smaller ones? If we make smaller grids, how will we avoid a disaster like was seen in Texas? Redundancy will need to accompany the solar roofs, electric cars, and power source transitions to come. But what does that transition look like? How will we transfer to these new power sources? While it is unlikely that we see another coal plant constructed, but our ease off of oil and natural gas may be slower. As our discussions always seem to revolve around, education will be critical to both inform and develop the solutions of the future.

M.I.T published a book, “Deep Time Reckoning”, about how Finland is approaching their nuclear energy usage. But the truly fascinating idea in their book is the futuresight and forward-thinking that that line of logic approaches. A Futures discussion for another time, perhaps (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/deep-time-reckoning). A final recommendation: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/electrify

Thank you to the group for attending and engaging in lively discussion! We will see you all next month!

Salon notice: “The Future of Nuclear Energy”

Our topic for the evening will be “The Future of Nuclear Energy.” In particular, we will consider the recent news that the Chinese will be testing a thorium reactor, which has the potential to produce electricity relatively safely and inexpensively and with a smaller amount of radioactive waste.

Here’s some background reading to seed our discussion:



Salon notice: “The Autonomous Economy”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Tuesday October 12 at 6:30 pm over Zoom.

Our topic for the evening will be “The Autonomous Economy,” with a specific concentration on the meaning and implications of the robot delivery vehicles that are now criss-crossing Ohio State’s campus. Here’s an article that describes what’s happening. https://www.thelantern.com/2021/08/robot-delivery-service-rolls-onto-campus/

We will be especially interested in discussing what it means to co-exist with autonomous agents in our daily lives.

Futures Salon: Resolved: Millennials will not have the experience of a retirement

Our discussion topic for this evening will be “Resolved: Millennials will not have the experience of a retirement.” We used the following source as a guide for this discussion: https://money.com/future-of-retirement-experts/

The Resolution is proposed: Millennials will not have the experience of a retirement. Four votes in yes. Three votes in no. Three abstain. A general hesitation on “it depends” is noted.

So why might millennials not have an retirement? While the older generations may have had access to retirement through gained wealth due to pensions and work structure, the modern employment system does not reflect this long-term tenure in a company. The word “retirement” (to go to bed, to withdraw, to end a match) may not apply to our society anymore. People may not be able to disengage. The wealth gap and racial divisions may physically prevent millennials from this traditional retirement environment. A population of the society which are primarily working physically (hard labor) which may be unable to withdraw with a potential withdrawal from society. This group may not be involved in the following.

An interesting article: https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/what-the-new-generation-of-working-class-americans-will-look-like. It describes both an evolution of the working class and a splintering of it.

This new “retirement” may be a hybridization of traditional work and finding funding to explore, create, and travel. Medicine and scientific advances also extend the longevity of life where a traditional retirement age may continually be pushed back into these new experiences. The new retirement may make the term itself obsolete. Perhaps people find new creative assets which fund this new retirement. Millennials already seem well-skilled and being flexible when working and this may be the requirement in these “retirement” years.

One of the problems about our species is that we always want more. We may be always want more luxury and a higher quality of life. This increases the cost of this retirement with every year.

How would millennials have a retirement? The term of “retirement” will continue to evolve and advance, new strategies will be found for income gaining, and new diversified positions will all engage in the future of making themselves to fit the new societal guide. Through systems like cryptocurrency and block-chain elements, wealth will be developed differently than the “house trading” and traditional wealth development methods.

Age may not be the critical definer of “retirement.” Our perception of the age spectrum relative to work/life will shift to a better work/life balance through the continuity of the work/life balance. With more individuals in the workforce, work may be more beneficially divided. We also always seem to find our way. The workplace changes, financial products change, but as time goes by things continue to improve and a blending of lifestyle and work may place it on the outside of the spokes of life, not the center. People may also shift towards a strategy of making the maximal amount of money early in life and then work to expend limited resources and effort through the rest of their life.

The concept of “lying flat” was raised, where people would participate in a form of workplace protest: https://theprint.in/opinion/pov/revolt-by-doing-nothing-chinese-youth-are-lying-in-bed-to-protest-tough-jobs-low-pay/693657/. Revolt by doing nothing. A commercial reaction to lying flat: https://jingdaily.com/lying-flat-trend-china-luxury-brands/. A book recommendation: The Precariat: The Dangerous New Class (https://www.amazon.com/Precariat-Dangerous-Class-Bloomsbury-Revelations/dp/1474294162). This group may be the most harshly affected by this adapting “retirement” environment. Staffing of this lower-end wealth category, such as fast food employment as we see in the news regarding reopening with the pandemic, highlights the moment we are in – maybe we want to rethink how we want to work and live.

Perhaps this would become an “engaged lying flat” type of retirement, where people can vacation, take lunch, see others and be connected to work but never overwhelmed by it – where work and life become a much more harmonious environment. We are already seeing where technologies, from 3D printing to medical device advances, to services such as ride sharing, are altering the cost of living, travel, and showing wealth.

We must consider that both economic disparity, the wealth gap, and policy beliefs separate a portion of our population from feeling like their life is a hopeful one. For every economic advancement that AI, robotic automation, and 3D printing may bring, a portion of people will find these as potentially harmful to their livelihood. Much work must be done to remedy this disparity and even the field for defining a future which contains this hopeful “retirement” outcome.

To end on a question on work: Is leisure the opposite of work? Do we need a new term in order to define an environment in which these two words do not appear so antithetical? Do we retire away from one job and into another? There was a long time where having a job defined people, a term of value, an outward appearance. Leisure, church, work, family may all become locations in which we may engage in self-expression and derive fulfillment from. Your “passion project” may fall into any of these categories.

The concept of social capital was brought up and we will dive into the future of social capital next month on August 10th.

Salon notice: “Resolved: Millennials will not have the experience of a retirement.”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Tuesday July 13 at 6:30 pm Our discussion question for the evening will be “Resolved: Millennials will not have the experience of a retirement.” 

Come prepared to debate this question.
As background, please take a look at this short article: https://money.com/future-of-retirement-experts/

Looking forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday.

Futures Salon: “How might we redesign public education?”

Our conversation tonight uses an article titled “Meet the school with no classes, no classrooms and no curriculum” as a reference. We will determine what will need to happen for this school to become the template for public education in the United States.  

Today’s conversation will be using idealized design, where we will start with a”blue-sky” future and then assess what steps need to be taken in order to make this future a reality. This process continues to work backwards towards the present as we reverse engineer that future. Here we will use the Agora school from the article and pose the question “what has to happen for that school model to become the predominant system within United States public education?” we hope to uncover the structural features of the academic system which will need to change in order to reach that idealized future.

What general observations do we have of the Agora school?

Project based learning is an excellent system to seek out and find the knowledge that is needed to reach an objective? A team of people work together on a product/project and real life solves problems in groups.

Agora embraces the physicality and practicality of schooling. Practical applications overruled theory and supported individuals learning at their own pace. The model is “honest” with the modern era, where access available to all and the information needed is able to be reached – where the idea of teaching to a test is a ludicrous idea in comparison.

The current system in the United States seems to focus on those who are purely cerebral, where individuals who are hands on often drop out of the system and find their success elsewhere.

Let us assume it is 2035. The Agora model has become the dominant model for public education in the United States. How did we get there? What has happened?

We would need to move to a system more based on a student having goals and a plan, not set in stone, but aspirational. Individualized plans become a part of the educational infrastructure.

The regulatory bodies which control education eliminate the concept of teaching to the test.

Shared recognition that America is no longer leading the world. Americans are not the top of the education system and we need to improve. A “hair on fire” moment occurs. We see that foreign interest is outcompeting our educational models.

Broad acceptance by teacher’s unions. Education departments have shifted teacher development to be facilitators, not direct instructors.

Local boards of education become less conservative. Public perception has shifted to directly value education primarily.

Artificial intelligence arrives, perhaps shifting education specialty to diverse ways of thinking and adaptability.

What is necessary to reach these systematic changes?

Charismatic teachers, interested in improving the process, supported by visionary leadership. “No sage on the stage but a guide on the side.” Perhaps, unions have been broken. Project-based learning is accepted. Trained to be broad-minded not specialized.

Employers vigorously invested in education, perhaps supported and integrated directly into local boards of education.

As was observed in COVID with distance learning, widespread questioning of the system has changed public perception. Funding and support has changed to match.

The populace as a whole recognizes that it is the end of American Exceptionalism. A lack of education becomes the “common enemy.”

What is necessary for these steps to occur?

A new American consensus emerges. Companies help design the curriculum. An end of polarization has been reached on education. The educational model has been removed from governmental control, where companies now supersede government in leading public education.

A clear cultural shift/element of civic-mindedness occurs among the 1%. This is in fact possible. A huge cultural change in the approval of gay marriage has occurred in the last 20 years.

How did we get to this new American consensus?

Advertisements and social media shift to showing the success of public education. Millennials and Gen Z “influencers” are engaged in the solution directly.

Billionaire/millionaire philanthropy directs towards this model. A major public school system adopts the model and is supported. It spreads rapidly.

Public education, then, becomes the new “moonshot.”

Thank you all for joining us tonight. Very excited for the next meeting!

Salon notice: “How might we redesign public education?”

Please join us on Tuesday June 15 at 6:30pm for the next Columbus Futurists monthly forum.  We will conduct an idealized design exercise in answer to the question “How might we redesign public education?”  To prepare, please read this article, titled “Meet the school with no classes, no classrooms and no curriculum.”  We will determine what will need to happen for this school to become the template for public education in the United States.  

Idealized design is a process where we will imagine an ideal, blue sky scenario, and then work backward to determine what would need to occur or transpire for that idealized scenario to be realized.  In effect, we will “reverse engineer” the future.  

We are taking steps to secure a location for our first f-2-f gathering, possibly for next month.  But once again for this month we will be meeting via Zoom.

Please email columbus.futurists@gmail.com for Zoom information or with any questions.

Salon notice: “Wireless electricity transmission”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Tuesday May 11 at 6:30 pm.

We will conduct another futures wheel exercise on the topic of “wireless electricity transmission.”  

As preparation, please read this article: https://singularityhub.com/2020/08/30/new-zealand-is-about-to-test-long-range-wireless-power-transmission/

And please plan on joining us the evening of May 11.

NEXT: The Future of Data Privacy

The Me.Ring is just a concept design at the moment. But if it were to be actually built and widely marketed, its impact would be dramatic. The ring consists of a switch: when you are open to having your data shared, you flip the switch to the “on” position. To remain anonymous, a user would switch […]

-David Staley

April 13, 2021

Read the full article on the Columbus Underground site.

NEXT: Baby Bust…or Baby Boom?

Demographers have observed that, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent downturn in economic activity, birth rates in the U.S. have declined. Research from Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine observes that “that the Covid pandemic would lead to a decline in U.S. births of about 8%, as compared with the number of expected […]

-David Staley

March 15, 2021

Read the full article on the Columbus Underground site.