by A. Priori
Any time I’m having trouble getting actual work done, I like to barge in on other people and make it harder for them to work too. That’s why I was over at Rerouted River National Laboratory the other day, hanging out in the office of somebody who insists that I refer to him as “Dr. N.” This used to be his way of keeping me from jeopardizing his job by writing about what he actually says, but now he’s also a big-time blogger, with scads of Twitter groupies who know him only as “Dr. N.” So now, if I were to point out that his real name is Barlow Culbertson and he never got a doctorate, it probably wouldn’t create a ripple in the blogosphere; he’s much too cool as “Dr. N” for his first-life persona to matter to anyone.
“Spent reactor fuel has an image problem,” he said. “When people hear that something is ‘spent,’ they associate that with ‘worthless.’ The once-through light-water reactor cycle leaves behind fissile plutonium and plenty of fertile uranium. We need to change the mindset, and get people to start calling it ‘used fuel.’”
“Be careful what you wish for,” I said, wincing. “Do you think that used cars don’t have an image problem? Aren’t you old enough to remember the slogan about whether you’d buy a used car from Richard Nixon?”
“Of course I’m not that old. I have a blog, which now makes me at least 30 years younger than you.”
“I suggest we leave that subject aside until we can get an independent third party to see which of us has more liver spots. Anyway, what you’re facing here is euphemism creep.”
“I’m facing a creep all right, and that might indeed be a euphemism.”
I sighed. This wasn’t going the way it should. I was supposed to be getting on his nerves, not vice versa. There’s nothing like a blog to bring out an otherwise placid individual’s inner lout.
“What I mean by that,” said I, “is that if something is offered as a euphemism for a term that is held in disregard, eventually the euphemism will come to be held in the same disregard. The literal meaning of ‘cheap’ is ‘doesn’t cost much,’ but the public came to define ‘cheap’ as ‘shoddy.’ Then some bright boy in the ad biz tried substituting ‘inexpensive’ for ‘cheap.’ It may have worked for a while, but pretty soon people snickered when they heard ‘inexpensive,’ because its regard was as low as ‘cheap’ and it also seemed deceptive and evasive. More recently, we’ve heard ‘affordable’ offered up as a replacement for ‘inexpensive.’ And so the cycle repeats.”
Not-actually-a-doctor N rubbed his chin. “Haven’t car dealers tried to change the image of used cars?”
“Yep, and it’s really a hoot. The luxury brands, in particular, came up with the terms ‘pre-owned’ and ‘pre-driven,’ making it seem like they provided you this wonderful service of having someone else own and drive the car for you. Even luxury car buyers can see through that.”
“So we probably shouldn’t call the fuel ‘pre-irradiated,’ I guess.”
“Doesn’t come off the tongue very well, does it? Relax, Barlow, I’ll solve this little problem for you.”
He cleared his throat. “For those of you listening to the podcast, I should point out that my guest comes up with odd little pet names for people, and they exist only to amuse him and have nothing to do with the person being addressed.”
“Whatever. Just sign this consulting contract and I’ll give you a new name for fuel-that-is-no-longer-new.”
“All right, if I’m putting taxpayer money at risk, this better be good.”
“It’s simple,” said I, tucking away the contract. “The fuel isn’t spent. The fuel isn’t used. The fuel has passed some time in the reactor, and has been transformed into something which, with a little further transformation, can become something much more worthwhile than a once-through energy source. This fuel is: maturing.”
“Hmm. Why not just ‘mature’?”
“Because the light-water reactor only took it part of the way there. There are some small modular reactor folks out there who claim they’ll be able to take fuel right out of an LWR and burn it, but I don’t think anyone should count on that yet.”
He nodded. “I like it. It has an air of poise and responsibility, but also of continuing improvement, like fine wine. ‘Maturing’ fuel it is.”
I stood up. “There’s a lot to be said for maturing. I myself keep doing it every day.” I leaned in close to the podcast microphone. “It probably helps that I don’t have a blog.”
A. Priori doesn’t have a blog. Once in a while, this blog has him. That’s the story of E. Michael Blake (a senior editor of ANS’s Nuclear News magazine who hides behind the A. Priori persona when being particularly curmudgeonly), and he’s epoxied to it.