Impressive List of Supporters Ask Dr. John Holdren To Pay More Attention To Nuclear Energy Development and Deployment
During the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of writing, revising and reviewing among a senior and accomplished group of people who believe that the United States needs all of the benefits that rapidly growing use of nuclear energy can provide.
The final product of the effort is a letter to Dr. John Holdren, Director, Office of Science & Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President. Here is the letter’s introduction:
John A. Shanahan, Corresponding Author
(Contact information removed)
Dr. John P. Holdren
Director, Office of Science & Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President Washington, D.C.
We met in Palo Alto, California in 1970, while you were working on your doctorate at Stanford University and I was starting an engineering career in nuclear power. You visited my family in Switzerland in the 1980s, where I was working on Nuclear Power Plant Leibstadt. You have also answered questions over the years on applications of Einstein‘s equations that is much appreciated.
Nearly 40 years have passed. We are both still working to make genuine contributions through science and engineering for the lasting benefit of society and the planet.
Please hear our statement and pass it on to the President.
Peace on earth and preservation of the marvels of nature will not be achieved without a sound energy policy. This policy must include well-managed and well-governed slow- and fast-neutron nuclear power, recycling spent fuels and depleted uranium and possibly thorium. This was the goal of the founding scientists in the 1940s and still is the best way to a reliable and secure energy future.
But the world is leaving us behind. At present, 58 new nuclear plants (including two fast reactors, one in Russia and one in India) are under construction in 14 countries. Of these, 20 are in China, 9 in Russia, 6 each in India and South Korea. Only one is in North America, and that is resumed work on a plant that was mothballed in 1988 when it was 80% finished. France has just announced a $7 billion commitment for a “sustainable development” program that includes promotion of fourth-generation nuclear reactors — (three of which being fast neutron reactors) a technology in which the United States was once the world leader.
Our nation needs to proceed quickly — not twenty or fifty years from now — while the people who pioneered this science and engineering can still provide guidance to a new generation of scientists and engineers. There is no political, economic or technical justification for delaying the benefits that nuclear power will bring to the United States, while the rest of the world forges ahead.
The letter continues and then includes an impressive list of signatories. Please go and read the letter. Then spread the word and let’s begin an open dialog. I am sure that there will be people who disagree with parts of the letter and others that disagree with it in its entirety. However, I think there will be others that will read it, agree that there is some real value there, and point it out to their elected officials.
You’ve got a lot of big names there, and a good message too. I think there might be more big names willing to sign it, on both sides of the climate debate, on both sides of the political aisle. Plenty of small names, too.
I think it’ll turn some heads, hopefully. I’d revise it to mention – at least in passing – several of the other advanced fission technologies – the VHTR, PBMR – and smaller gas-cooled derivatives, and LFTR – so that these constituencies don’t feel like they’re being left out.
Certainly, overall, this is a good letter.
I would agree with katana0182 (Dave) that it would be better to be a little more inclusive in the technology mentioned in the letter. America could benefit from more than the narrow list of nuclear technologies mentioned in the letter (IFR is ok but some mention should be made of fission-fusion hybrids, molten salt reactors (LFTR), accelerator driven systems) which promise at least equivalent cost effective benefit to society as the Integral Fast Reactor and traditional nuclear fuel recycling.
I hope the current administration is open to influence and flexible enough to make mid course corrections when it becomes evident that a narrow renewable energy only agenda for America’s energy future is not practical and will only result in continuing America
katana0182 and Robert – Perhaps what is needed is a flood of similar letters that show just how much innovation is available and being squashed from development by people who want to keep researching while oil, coal and gas keep getting burned.
I agree that it would have been nice to mention all of the options, but the simple two page letter would have turned into a mess. Besides, this effort was being spearheaded by some people who are very interested in fast reactors. It was a major effort to get them to tone down some of their rhetoric aimed at explaining why their favorite is the “best” fission technology.
Way too often, fission advocates hand their competition all of the tools needed to keep themselves off of the playing field for the world’s energy market. Instead of recognizing that fossil fuels currently control about 85% of the market and working to capture portions of that for their team, they fight amongst themselves for the 6% or so that is currently represented by fission.
Short sighted. Silly. Not productive. We need to go where the money is and explain why fission beats combustion hands down. Once we capture some sales, we can stop going to the government – which is pretty heavily influenced by the fossil fuel competition – we can reinvest in our own technologies to come up with ever increasingly amazing advances along the ‘S’ curve that governs all innovative technologies. From what I can tell, we are still on the long gradually rising flat spot that occurs before the explosive improvement phase.
I have a post coming up someday about that. One illustration of the curve that I see is the quantity of heat produced by every kilogram of heavy metal put into a reactor. When we first built the Shippingport, a reasonable expectation for burn-up was about 5 MW-days/kg. We are currently at 45 MW-days/kg. The theoretical limit from systems like the IFR or the LFTR or the GCFR or the LWBR is closer to 1,000 MW-days/kg when all of the heavy metal gets consumed. Obviously, there is an asymptote there, but it sure will be fun (and incredibly profitable) learning how to approach it!
Rod, I firmly believe the explosive improvement phase can’t come unless there is a fertile business enviroment, as the case was for the microelectronics industry, for example, with a rapidly expanding market, fast innovation and huge supply of investment capital to make it all go. The problem here is people are afraid of the technology for numerous reasons, limiting market demand, and governement regulation is incredibly burdensome raising barriers to entry, killing the economics of technology innovation, and capital isn’t available because of these two factors. Make the business environment fertile enough, and this will take off just like the microelectronics and IT industry did because here too it will be possible to evolve the technology across ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE in performance improvements because the underlying physics will support it.
Rod this is probably the best letter around on this issue directed toward politicos/DofE I’ve ever seen. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
Its hard to write a letter that addresses an important subject and includes all of the good ideas that could be suggested by signers. The Shanahan letter includes the following statement:
This policy must include well-managed and well-governed slow- and fast-neutron nuclear power, recycling spent fuels and depleted uranium and possibly thorium.
In the copy of the letter that I sent in to John Holdren I omitted the word “possibly” next to thorium.
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