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Are Bill Gates’ nuclear projects really sweet dreams?

A white card of Jean-Pol Poncelet; mmember of the Royal Academy of Belgium; former minister.

On March 18, under the title “The nuclear dreams of Bill Gates”, La Libre Belgique published the point of view of several “energy experts” who affirm that “the nuclear projects defended by Bill Gates in no way constitute an impetus realistic for the production of renewable electricity “.

Let’s move on to the summary suspicion of the personal ethics of Gates, one of the most fabulous entrepreneurs and philanthropists of our century. As well as on the heterogeneity of the professional references of the various signatories. Their argument for condemning nuclear technologies is well known as it has been repeated without being more convincing: they are not the panacea for the climate crisis; even if they were, it wouldn’t be for thirty years; they are the accomplices of the military; Belgium no longer plays a leading role.

Circumstances gave me the idea of ​​transposing their indictment at the beginning of the 1950s. In the United States, manufacturers were then considering using so-called “jet” engines to fly civilian airplanes intended for the transport of people. Here is roughly what would have been published at the time.

What happened to turbojets?

“The ambitious dreams of the promoters of civil aviation should be confronted with reality. The air transport of passengers with current planes and their piston engines, which are approaching the end of their life, is much less than that which the road allows. The latter already provides the majority of passenger travel in the United States, so there is no reason to consider the jet aircraft to be the panacea for passenger transportation.

Manufacturers are trying to defend the use of jet engines for new planes. But the technical process of turbojets is complicated and more sensitive to risks. These are high power density machines with a ridiculously short lifespan that use rare and fragile metals. They would require drastic precautions if they were ever to be used in airplanes carrying passengers. By the way, all developments of turbojets were intended for the military. This technology, if it were improved, could especially offer them the possibility of having bombers or fighters of a new type, is this really acceptable?

Moreover, the demonstrations that we have tried in the civilian field have been catastrophic. The prototype of Comet built by De Havilland in the UK only experienced problems. Three aircraft were destroyed in mid-flight. The design flaws are numerous. The structure does not withstand cabin pressurization. The portholes burst in flight. The engines, placed in the wings, near the fuselage, require booster rockets to improve take-off performance. And the entry of air disrupts the supply of the engines with great incidences which also affect the lift of the aircraft. The accident of a Comet in Rome killed 35 people. But all the flaws are being played down by the British authorities. They have largely encouraged and funded the development of the aircraft and do not want to lose face.

Conclusion: Even if the industry were able to meet all of these challenges, one would expect potential commercial applications at best in several decades. Therefore it would be better to devote all our efforts to the deployment and innovation of proven technologies in rail and maritime transport. The developments of jets, which are also part of the military-industrial agenda of states, must be viewed with the necessary independence and critical thinking. “

I do not know if at the time we finally “examined with the independence and the necessary critical sense” the development of aircraft engines. But today, turbojets, which have become turbofans, are so efficient and safe that we no longer build four-jet airplanes. They allow twin-engine aircraft to cross the entire Pacific Ocean without refueling. More than twenty thousand “jets” are in service around the world. In the European Union, before the health crisis, more than a billion passengers traveled by plane each year. We should suggest that they come back to the train, the boat, the DC-3, Constellation and other piston machines of the last century. I would be curious to know their opinion …

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