Today is the first official day of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Winter Meeting for 2009. The title of this year’s meeting is “Nuclear Power: Crafting Energy Solutions”. During the plenary session that is scheduled for this morning at 8:00-11:30 two US Senators (James Webb (D-VA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN)) are scheduled to provide information about their progress in crafting a framework for legislation on reducing fossil fuel emissions that are contributing to global climate change . That framework will include measures to encourage nuclear energy growth as a key component as discussed in a recent New York Times op-ed by Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham.
It is encouraging to see continued momentum coming from both Democrats and Republicans who have recognized that nuclear energy can provide both the reliable, affordable, abundant energy that a vibrant economy needs and can do it without producing vast quantities of gaseous waste products that are disturbing the global atmospheric mix of compounds and elements that have enabled the earth to achieve the unique status (among known planets) of supporting life and human society development.
Though the meeting officially starts today, ANS meetings have a long tradition of a very busy day at the conference hotel on the day before the actual sessions begin. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to drive over to the OMNI Shoreham Hotel on a gorgeous fall day to visit with old friends, meet some new ones and get a feel for the excitement that is building in the industry as we move towards a period of new construction activity.
There are more and more young people attending the meetings, some more mature people are deciding to stick around as mentors, and there are new companies who have decided that they have products and services that can be successfully marketed to the industry. There have been a lot of new developments in project planning, knowledge management, heavy equipment lifting, and testing that have taken place in other major industries while the nuclear construction industry has been slumbering; many of those advances offer great promise for ways to avoid some of the cost overruns and delays that plagued the industry in the later years of its first construction boom.
There was an informative workshop discussing lessons that have been learned and are still being learned in the process of applying for licenses for new facilities. People who have actually been successful in the process of obtaining Early Site Permits described some of the processes that they developed, people who are on the receiving end of the applications talked about some of their criteria and challenges, and people who are deep into the process of combined construction and operating licenses reported on their progress so far.
I had the opportunity to share lunch with three other writers at one of the numerous outside cafes on Connecticut Ave. just a couple of blocks from the conference hotel. We had an animated discussion about the competition between nuclear energy and natural gas for new electrical power stations, about the growing interest in nuclear energy on the part of Democratic Party leaders (Kerry, Webb, Klobuchar, Carper, among others) and about the ways to use online media to tell share interesting stories about the business of building and operating new power plants.
In the afternoon, I met with the Public Information Committee and heard a presentation by Ann Bisconti about her most recent public opinion survey conducted about nuclear energy. Some interesting highlights include a surprisingly low percentage of people (14%) who believe that coal will be providing a major portion of the US electricity supply in 15 years and a surprisingly high percentage of people (35%) who believe that solar will be a major source in that same time frame. That indicates the challenge that people involved in public information about energy have – things do not change very fast in the power plant world and our current generation from those sources (48% from coal and far less than 0.5% from solar) is not even close to the perception of what will be true in just 15 years.
After the PIC meeting, I joined the long and cheerful line of people waiting to get into the President’s Reception and the opening of the Expo booths. It was a whirlwind of activity for me – I had just 1.5 hours to catch up with some friends and acquaintances who are doing exciting work on traveling wave reactors, small and medium sized reactors, international cooperation efforts, and new power plant licensing activities. I stopped by informative booths and learned about the status of the Toshiba 4S, the status of Areva’s partnership with Constellation Energy, the interest on the part of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program in attracting new recruits, and the interest on the part of a number of first time exhibitors in the opportunities that are developing to serve a variety of product and service needs as construction projects get closer to reality.
Now it is time to get ready for my day job. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the plenary session speeches to find out if there is anything new to get excited about from the politicians who have the chance to smooth the path for an industry that is already building momentum for growth. I recommend that you turn to someone like Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat or John Wheeler of This Week in Nuclear for reports on the plenary session. If you are interested in up to the minute impressions, you can also search Twitter for the hash tags of #ans09 and #ypc09 (YPC stands for Young Professional’s Congress, it is a combined group of North American Young Generations in Nuclear (NA-YGN) and the ANS Young Professionals Group. They are holding an embedded topical meeting within the ANS meeting.)