According to Nuclear Notes, the Obama Administration has created a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Its members will include such worthies as Brent Scowcroft and former U.S. Senators Pete Domenici and Chuck Hagel. According to NN, “the commission’s charge is to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel.” This is another sign that the Administration is keeping an open mind towards nuclear as part of the overall energy mix. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and his chief science advisor Steve Koonin are both brilliant scientists in their own right, and both appear to be genuinely committed to the goal of achieving substantial reductions in our carbon emissions in the coming decades. I suspect both would welcome a greater role for nuclear as a step towards achieving that goal. However, both realize they must move ahead deliberately, but not recklessly. There are issues of Realpolitik as well as science here, as can be seen from the following blurb in the NN article,
Chu does not consider the focus on nuclear energy in President Obama’s State of the Union or the founding of the commission to represent a “betrayal” of environmentalists who supported the President’s election (nor should he – Obama was muted but definite during the election that he supported nuclear energy.)
Regarding the Commission’s charge, I found this bit at NN interesting:
Yucca Mountain will not be considered an option. For all intents and purposes, it’s dead.
Why not Yucca Mountain? Because, said Chu, “science has advanced dramatically” in the 20 years since Yucca Mountain was chosen and a better, safer solution is preferable and now possible.
The thought of all those plutonium-laced fuel rods just sitting in cooling pools around our current reactors makes me a bit uneasy, but perhaps there’s method to the Secretary’s madness. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until we hear from the Commission.
It happens, BTW, that Koonin has a long history in connection with inertial confinement fusion (ICF). For example, he chaired the Committee for the Review of the Department of Energy’s Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) Program, established by the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council on behalf of DOE. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the upcoming experiments to achieve fusion ignition at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) should they prove successful.