I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to be attending the ANS Student Conference at Texas A and M. I promised myself that I would try to produce some on the site blogs, but it is always difficult to find the time to produce a good entry during a conference. There are so many people to meet and talk to, so many booths to visit, so many sessions to attend, and so many drinks to share. (Actually, I wimped out last night and crashed hard at about 8:30. I am getting old.)
On Thursday, February 28, the conference kicked off with a plenary session held in The Zone, a large room overlooking the end zone at Kyle Field. I took a glance out of the windows and imagined what the scene might be like when the Corps and the rest of the student body filled the stadium. Pretty easy visual for a college football fan like me.
The event was catered by Rudy’s. Can you believe that they were serving excellent barbeque? I realized that I was really in Texas when we were called to order with a very loud “Howdy” before the buffet lines were opened up.
There were two main speakers for the first night, Mr. James Sheppard, CEO of South Texas Project Nuclear Operation Company, and Dr. Patrick Moore. Before dinner, I met up with John Wheeler of This Week In Nuclear Podcast and the two of us took the opportunity to introduce ourselves to Dr. Moore. We had a nice chat and explained to Dr. Moore a bit about our podcasts – you remember, I am the host of The Atomic Show. It was nice to meet the man – he is a bright and energetic thought leader, even if he was a bit misled in his youth. Maybe I can even get him to come on the Atomic Show for an interview someday.
Mr. Sheppard presented a well designed brief about his company’s efforts to prepare for a new unit to be built on the large site where units 1 and 2 of the STP are currently operating. The site has over 7000 acres of land and a large cooling lake that was initially sized to provide the heat sink for 4 units. The new unit will be an ABWR provided by a team that includes GE and Hitachi. He talked about the company’s on-going efforts to develop new employees, to partner with the local community colleges, with craft unions, Bay City, and with the plant vendor and constructors.
Despite the rather bleak pictures of the site, he made it sound like a very attractive employment opportunity, especially for people that are looking for a stable career with a single company. That is one of the attractions of the industry; people who get involved in plant operations know that their facility is going to be around for a very long time and it will need people who develop the corporate knowledge to keep it operating at peak efficiency. Operational excellence is one thing that Mr. Sheppard was very proud about – the South Texas Project site has led the nation in electricity production for two unit facilities for several years in a row. Since Mr. Sheppard and I share a common alma mater – the US Naval Academy – and a common nuclear power training baseline – the US Navy Nuclear Power Program, I decided I could share in that pride.
Dr. Moore gave a talk that was a bit of a replay for me, since it was similar to the one I attended in DC earlier in the week. One thing that was different was that he started off with an expanded overview of his history with Greenpeace, including a number of pictures of a much hairier version of him in his activist days. I found that segment intriguing, especially in light of recent efforts by Greenpeace to deny that Dr. Moore was a founding member and to try to marginalize his contributions. When you read items like that, it is always good to keep in mind that Patrick Moore is a trained scientist who had earned his PhD in Ecology before he got involved with Greenpeace’s effort to halt hydrogen bomb testing in the Aleutian Islands. He was not a follower, but a decision maker and leader with a good basis for his choice to get involved.
Dr. Moore made an important comment when explaining why he decided to leave Greenpeace after 15 years as a leader of the organization. He said that he woke up one day and realized that he had spent a good portion of his life fighting against things and wanted to change that to finding things that he could fight FOR. As he said, it is much easier to be a roadblock than a real contributor, but the people who change the world are those who find ways to take positive action, not just negative actions to stop other people.
I took the opportunity during the question and answer session to ask Dr. Moore about the response that the natural gas industry might have to his energy plan because most of his recommendations – ground source heat pumps, nuclear power, and hydroelectric power – compete head on with natural gas. He got my point immediately and explained that the natural gas industry is a huge competitor for with nuclear power. He mentioned something that most people might not think much about – he said that Exxon-Mobil and Shell have a plan for America’s energy future that includes a perimeter of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals all around the country with the gas being supplied by Russia, Iran, Nigeria and Dubai. He does not like that vision; not only would the US be dependent on those companies for its imported oil, but also for its electricity fuel supply.
I have to agree with Dr. Moore and am glad that he is on our side.
Please check the The Atomic Show Podcast for a special show from the floor of the Career Fair that was held as part of the conference. I talked with 8 different potential employers including: a procurement and engineering company, a couple of civilian government agencies, the US Navy Nuclear Power Program, and several operating utility companies about their need for new hires. I think you will enjoy what you hear, even if you are not interested in a new job.