Steve Kirsch, an MIT graduate and enough of an entrepreneurial success to have an auditorium at the school that carries his name, has updated his challenge to the faculty at his alma mater in a post on The Huffington Post titled Is MIT Afraid to Debate Nuclear Report?.
Steve is quite serious about this challenge and feels like he and his team are being disrespected by the esteemed and venerated university researchers who produced a report about the future of the nuclear fuel cycle that essentially said that we should invest a lot of money in several decades of more research before we produce any new power with better reactors. Based on my back channel observations of the discussion, one aspect that appears to really stick in his craw is the fact that the faculty authors have been unresponsive while many of the emails he has received from the school have come in the form of arrogant emails from a 25-year-old grad student who helped to produce the report.
Here is a quote from Steve’s message:
Is Professor Moniz afraid to defend his report? If he’s right, he has nothing to fear.
Today, the challenge to debate from Congressman Garamendi, James Hansen, Yoon Chang, Barry Brook, and Ray Hunter remains unanswered.
All of my nuclear friends told me that MIT would never agree to a debate because Professor Moniz knows he’d lose badly.
I added the following comment to Steve’s post:
MIT is quite happy with the way things are today. The faculty there is a highly respected part of the Establishment, especially the guy with the rebellious 1970s vintage hairdo who gets invited to all of the right parties. Of course, it is hard to be seen as an innovative thinker when that rebel hairdo is turning so gray.
The establishment way of doing things is to let the oil and gas industry continue to dominate by suppressing nuclear technology. Setting a path of several decades worth of research and development keeps the research dollars flowing to the mighty technical university and does not disrupt the established energy industry. I hear echos of Atlas Shrugged here.
In the meantime, the disruptive technology is fission where almost all of the uranium can be turned into useful energy. Using our current wasteful method, an enriched fuel pellet the size of the tip of my pinkie still contains more energy than a heavy duty pickup truck full of coal. We set 8 pellets of potential fuel off to the side. With a fully developed system that includes IFRs, we would be able to turn those 9 pellets of uranium into the energy equivalent of 180 tons of coal.
That development could enable an energy market disruption worthy of a spirited debate.
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights
By the way, though I think a debate about the nuclear fuel cycle is incredibly important, I am also intrigued by the suggestion that one of MIT’s faculty members gave in response to the debate challenge. Dr. Richard Lester, who was not involved in the preparation of the Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle report, believes that a comprehensive discussion on the future of nuclear energy in the wake of the public and media response to Fukushima is a more timely topic.
They are not mutually exclusive discussions. Closing the fuel cycle is a worthwhile endeavor, if only to provide additional proof that the easy answer to the “what do you do with the waste?” challenge is to say “you recycle it.” However, it is important to recognize that there are a lot of people – some of whom are students at MIT – that are less sure of nuclear energy after what they have heard repeated (numerous times) about Fukushima.
It would be worthwhile to have a large and well-promoted conference on the future of nuclear energy after Fukushima that provided a forum for the individuals and teams who are excited about nuclear energy to talk about why their particular brand of atomic fission can save the world from its continued dependence on explosive and depleting fossil fuels. Something tells me that my Energy from Thorium friends would be the first to sign up to participate, but they would not be alone.