Winner wasn't the first to suggest this kind of claim - it was central to the thought of technological determinists/autonomists like Herbert Marcuse and Jacques Ellul. But Winner used some striking contemporary examples. My favorite is the production of nuclear energy.
It's pretty simple. Say a society faces a choice about which energy technology to adopt: solar or nuclear. The choice, Winner says, is also political, but in a sense generally not considered part of the deliberations. If we choose nuclear energy (on the basis of criteria of efficiency [i.e., cost] and production, of course), we necessarily choose a centralized and hierarchical administrative structure. Nuclear energy would be produced at a central location - a plant - distributed through a tightly policed network, and delivered to your home. But it's not possible to have little nuclear plants in everyone's backyards. Nuclear technological knowledge must remain the domain of specialists for security reasons.
Now, say the society chooses solar energy. The administrative and distribution structure potentially looks much different. We could have the same hierarchical and centralized administrative and distribution structure as the nuclear choice, but we could also have a highly decentralized administrative and distribution structure. If the technology was adequate, everyone could have solar energy production in their backyard, or on their rooftops. The importance is that we've left open a number of political-administrative options, not foreclosed them.
The point here is not that solar is better than nuclear. The point is that technology adoption isn't simply a matter of efficiency. The solar-or-nuclear choice in the example illustrates that it is also a choice about a political-administrative structure. But that political choice is not part of the deliberations at all. Only efficiency considerations.
So... what to make of the new Toshiba Micro Nuclear Reactor?
Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.
The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons. The Lithium-6 reservoirs are connected to a vertical tube that fits into the reactor core. The whole whole process is self sustaining and can last for up to 40 years, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy.
Toshiba expects to install the first reactor in Japan in 2008 and to begin marketing the new system in Europe and America in 2009.