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Health Care Should Go (Micro) Nuclear

By KIM BELLARD

I think of hospitals as the healthcare system’s nuclear power plants.  They’re both big, complex, expensive to build, beset with heavy regulatory burdens, consistently major components of their respective systems (healthcare and electric generation) yet declining in number.  Each is seen to offer benefits to many but also to pose unexpected risk to some.

Interestingly, there’s a “micro” trend for each, but aimed towards different ends.

Micro hospitals have been with us for several years.  They usually have only around ten beds, along with an emergency room, lab and imaging.  Dr. Tom Vo, CEO of Nutex Health, says: “We position ourselves between urgent care and a big hospital.”  A micro-hospital Chief Medical Officer admits: “We still partner with our larger hospital partners for patients who might require surgery or intensive care.” 

They’re not trying to reinvent hospitals so much as to support them and offer more convenience to patients.  Not so with micro reactors; they’re looking to revitalize their industry, which is in trouble.

According to the U.S. Energy Administration (E.I.A.), there are 94 U.S. nuclear reactors, at 56 nuclear power plants, in 28 states.  Only one new reactor has gone active in the U.S. since 1996, while almost two dozen are in various stages of decommissioning and only two new ones are under construction.  Overall, the U.S. gets about 20% of its power from nuclear reactors, while 13 countries get at least a quarter of their electricity from nuclear, with France leading the pack at 75%.     

We talk a lot about transitioning away from using fossil fuels to generate electric power, but none of the renewable options currently offers a realistic path towards replacing them.  Nuclear power is the proven alternative, but, as Dan Van Boom wrote in CNET, nuclear power has a PR problem.  No one wants a nuclear power plant in their backyard, no matter how big that backyard is.

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