Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Has Nuclear "Crossed the Chasm?"

“Crossing the Chasm” is a common marketing concept used in the high-technology field. Based on a popular book published in 1991, it refers to the process by which consumers and society adopt new technologies.

Although the Chasm is an imprecise (and some would argue outdated) concept, it is interesting to apply to the adoption of nuclear technology.

The Chasm describes a bell curve of technology adoption. In the first part of the curve, a new technology is hyped, eagerly embraced, grows rapidly. Then there is an inevitable dip, or pullback. The technology has been over-sold, people feel burnt, consumer demand is saturated, and competitors finally organize an effective counterattack. Orders dry up, and in some cases people believe “the technology is dead.” But it isn’t dead, it’s just in a lull. After some number of years, the technology rebounds and begins it’s largest growth phase.

Does nuclear technology fit into such a pattern? Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize winning author and nuclear historian, believes it does: "Nuclear grew too fast, slowed, and is poised to grow again." (Nuclear Power and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 2002, p66)

So what does all this tell us? If nuclear power is indeed following the Chasm model of adoption, then it's next phase of growth will be enormous – much larger than expected. (How big could a new nuclear power market become? We'll cover that topic in later posts).

Here are some other considerations:

• Nuclear technology provides a product – large scale energy – which is needed by all of human society. It’s impossible to overstate just how big this market is, and it’s growing much faster than expected.

• Large-scale energy isn’t optional. Without it, people starve, the social order collapses, or in the case of emerging economies, tight energy supply prevents people from achieving the level of prosperity to which they aspire.

• It’s got significant consequences for long-term health of the planet and the human race. One may or may not believe in global warming or peak oil, but the crucial point is, other people do believe it, and they are scared for the future of their children. That's a powerful motivator.

• There are no silver bullets or magic solutions to the problem. Human technology hasn’t found any way around the fact that energy is a limited resource. This means that, barring some unexpected scientific breakthrough, there will be little competition to nuclear power.

If nuclear power does become the next growth industry, then this has significant consequences for the technology communities in various nations. The world is a different place compared to 30 years ago, when the last reactors were built in the US. The new nuclear power industry is more competitive, with nations like Japan, China, India, Russia, France, and South Africa competing with the old-line vendors in the US, Britain, and Canada. With the levelizing effects of new high-technology global economy, these new competitors will be fast, aggressive, well-funded…almost “silicon valley” in their approach. Nuclear technology and licensing, which have moved at a slow pace dictated by government regulation, is likely to speed up.

On the other hand, nuclear power has unique dangers that other technologies simply don’t have to contend with, so it will remain an inherently conservative business.


At 4:25 AM, Blogger Rod Adams said...


Your article hit some very important points. There is a reason why I like the idea of getting people who have had success outside the nuclear industry to take a look at the prospects with a new point of view.

The market for clean, abundant, reliable, controllable, concentrated, portable, and inexpensive energy is ENORMOUS. When an industry is as capital intensive as the energy industry is, there is incredible opportunity for attacking major cost drivers.

Enough for now. Keep up the good work. I look forward to the coming posts that you mentioned in the article.


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