I have been spending the last couple of hours digesting Chu’s responses to some very interesting questioning in preparation for an Atomic Show that I will be putting together this weekend.
Though I have a great deal of respect and hope for what Chu should be able to accomplish, I am now less enthusiastic than I was before I started listening carefully, watching the body language and parsing the cautious statements.
Though I will have a lot more to say on the audio program, my overall impression is that Chu is a scientist who prefers research over engineering. Though research is important for answering thorny questions, there comes a time when science is no longer the right tool and when as Jeff Sessions said “the perfect becomes the enemy of the good”. We are there when it comes to nuclear fission power and waste storage.
We do not need any research to tell us how to build new power plants – we certainly do not know everything, but the things we do not know will never be answered in a laboratory environment. They need an industrial environment where real concrete gets poured (and may need to be chipped out and poured again if someone goofs up the mix), where real metal gets bent and welded, and where real operators sit in the front of panels and explain why they cannot see a particular indication very well.
We also do not need any research on how to store used nuclear fuel safely – someone needs to make darned sure that Chu knows we have been handling that task for more than 50 years with an unblemished record. We do not know how to permanently “dispose” of used nuclear fuel, but I think that is a good thing – it is to darned valuable to throw away.
I was especially disappointed to hear, in Chu’s gushing about the California experience and the potential of energy efficiency programs, that he is apparently a follower of the Lovins school of NO WATTS. He even indicated that he liked the idea of slowing down new plant construction, “like California did”. Nothing could be more damaging for the effort to control construction costs than to build more slowly.
(Update: California’s energy policies have received a lot of kudos over the years due to an extensive marketing effort. If you want to read a pretty good summary with accurate numbers, I recommend visiting the Energy Information Agency California State Energy Profile. Read it carefully and see where California’s experience may not be replicable to other states, where is cheats on how it counts energy sources, and take a look at the twin bottom lines of prices and grid stability.)
The testimony highlighted the fact that nuclear technologies have a lot of friends on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee including Lisa Murkowski, Mary Landrieu, and Richard Burr. Senator Jeff Sessions and Senator Bob Corker both asked some tremendous questions and shared some important commentary. Now, back to work on my clipping and tagging for the next Atomic Show.