DOE Advisor Talks Nukes, Fusion

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Publication date: 
6 June 2008

A recent event hosted by the American Association  for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offered a talk by Dr. Vic Reis, Special  Advisor to the Secretary of Energy.  The  event, Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change: Options and Opportunities  for the Next Administration, highlighted key issues that Reis argues are  interconnected and must be considered simultaneously.

Reis began by highlighting the public’s interest in energy and climate change  issues, and suggested that policy makers should harness that concern to effect  change.  According to Reis, global  development, particularly the increasing demand for electricity in developing  nations, climate change, and national security are part of a nuclear “Gesamtkonzept,”  or overall plan.  Reis said that highly  regulated nuclear programs could provide energy to these populations, offer  part of the solution to global warming, and would not compromise national  security.

Reis continued with a discussion on what he called  “a historic opportunity for the next administration” with nuclear energy.  After sharing figures on climate change  projections and the efficiency of nuclear power as compared to other energy  sources, Reis seemed optimistic about the presidential candidates’ views on  nuclear energy.  Reis briefly commented  on the nuclear arsenal, saying that Congress favored gradually reducing the  stockpile, while President Bush supports the same while also looking to develop  a reliable replacement warhead.  On the  related subject of nuclear proliferation, Reis admitted that there was no  “silver bullet,” but said that with a strong international regulatory agency  and vigilance, the threat could be minimized.

Closing, Reis made the case for expanding nuclear  energy.  Referencing his previous  statistics on nuclear energy, Reis argued that developments in reactor design,  and the low carbon footprint of a plant left only the issue of nuclear waste to  be solved.  Reis suggested that geographical  and generational fairness was important.   Geographically, the storage of nuclear waste has proven to be a  contentious issue, especially at the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada.  The transportation of hazardous nuclear waste  is also of concern.  In regards to  generational fairness, Reis argued that future generations should not be  burdened with decisions made today, and that contemporary models of waste  storage should take into account what future generations might want to do with  that waste product.

Following Reis’ talk,  the floor was opened to questions.  Reis  was quick to note that his answers were his own opinion, and not to be  attributed to his office.  Reis was asked  about the availability of uranium.  In  response, Reis said that if the demand for uranium increases, its cost will  continue to rise, but that there is enough uranium for “thousands of years.” 

Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of the night came when Reis was asked, “Have  we given up on fusion reactors?”  Reis replied,  “Yeah,” eliciting a murmur from the audience.   He added, “Well I, nobody asked me that.   That’s a good question.  I think  that there are some very interesting hybrid concepts that people have talked  about, where you can get a lot of, you use your neutrons from a fusion reaction  but then you use the energy if you will from a fission source.  But, no I don’t think we need fusion at this,  over the next, you know, basically, I think that there is enough fission and  things like that for over the next century.   But that’s my view, you might get some different people to argue that.

A final question was raised about whether or not the U.S. needed something like  the “Manhattan Project” to find a solution to the energy problem.  Reis disagreed with the analogy and suggested  that a better one was the Cold War when, according to Reis, the U.S. came  together and built programs that achieved solutions.  Reis offered NASA and NSF as examples.

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