President-elect Obama is expected to name John Holdren as assistant to the president for science and technology during his next weekly radio address. Professor Holdren teaches environmental policy at Harvard University. His selction adds to a slate of policy influencers that advocate increased actions to combat the effects of CO2 and other pollutants produced as a direct result of burning fossil fuels.
Dr. Holdren has a strong academic record and has participated in a number of studies on the importance of nuclear power, including the influential 2003 MIT study titled The Future of Nuclear Power. He has also testified on the topic in front of Congress. In July 2000 Dr. Holdren appeared in front of SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE and talked about improving energy security and reducing greenhouse gases. Here is a sample quote from that testimony:
5. My written statement explains why the role of nuclear energy in reducing U.S. oil-import dependence in the short to medium term will be modest; discusses the possibilities for a larger role for nuclear energy in reducing climate-change risks over the longer term; and summarizes the recommendations of the 1997 and 1999 PCAST energy studies for increased Federal R&D — and increased international cooperation — to improve nuclear fission and develop nuclear fusion.
6. A key point is that the chances of getting an expanded contribution from nuclear fission will be enhanced by making fission energy systems as simple, cheap, safe, proliferation resistant, and noncontroversial as possible. Reprocessing spent fuel for recycle of its plutonium — and breeder reactors that depend on this — go in the wrong direction in all of these respects: they make fission energy more complex, costlier, riskier, more proliferation-prone, and, correspondingly, more controversial. And there will be no sound economic or resource-availability justification for reprocessing or breeding for the next few decades, at least. Accordingly, the United States should continue to defer reprocessing and commercialization of breeder reactors, and should increase its efforts to persuade other countries to defer these steps also. The time gained by postponement can be used to strengthen the institutions of nonproliferation and to try to develop technologies that can make reprocessing and recycle less expensive, more proliferation resistant, and less emisions- and waste-intensive.
Dr. Holdren and Dr. Steven Chu, the nominee for Secretary of Energy, have expressed opposing views about the importance and efficacy of recycling used nuclear fuel, but they both hold strong positions that nuclear fission has demonstrated that it is worth pursuing and improving. Based on Dr. Holdren’s stated design goals, I think he might encourage the development and commercialization of reactors like the 70 MW (thermal) Hyperion Power Module, NuScale’s 45 MWe natural circulation light water reactor, the LiftrTM, and the Adams EngineTM, as well as the third generation light water reactors that have improved passive safety, fewer components, and more robust containment structures.
The selection of John Holdren as chief science advisor to the President provides one more reason for believing that the second Atomic Age is gaining momentum and will soon be a self-evident reality.