The tag line for the ANS winter meeting was “Talk about Nuclear Differently: A Good Story Untold”. Based on the sessions that I managed to attend, in between coughing fits, I heard a number of themes that were significantly different from those that I had heard at other ANS meeting attended over the years.
There were a large number of sessions and talks about efforts to recycle used nuclear fuel. Several years ago, talk of nuclear fuel recycle was limited to whispering in the hallways; the “once through” cycle with deep geologic disposal of the remainders was the accepted standard.
Sessions included a number of presentations about smaller reactors. This trend has been growing for a few years; there have been a number of presentations in the past about South Africa’s PBMR and more recently about the Toshiba/CRIEPI 4S project initially proposed for Galena, Alaska. The number of different types of smaller reactors is increasing, and there were also presentations about ways to ensure that small reactors do not add to the risk of proliferating nuclear weapons. I especially enjoyed hearing about the Atoms for Peace Reactor project – Alan Waltar is an always engaging speaker.
Another topic that has been gaining momentum in recent years is the challenge of recruiting, training and retaining a new generation of nuclear technologists. A number of talks included references to the fact that more than 50% of the current nuclear workforce is within 10 years of retirement.
With the hiatus in reactor construction, there was a significant shrinkage in the number of nuclear training and education programs and in many of the remaining programs also experienced a smaller enrollment. This trend appears to be reversing, but there is a long way to go. The different talk on this topic was the fact that there are a variety of opportunities opening up, some people now in school may actually be able to build new plants instead of just operating or decommissioning existing ones.
Stay tuned to Atomic Insights for more information about the above. There might even be a few of the more interesting talks posted as audio files once I finish all of the necessary processing and approval process. Now it is time to head out for the day job.