Energy Secretary Chu Announces His Return to Academia

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Publication date: 
5 February 2013

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced his plan to return to “an academic life of teaching and research” at the end of this month, and may possibly stay until a new secretary takes over. President Obama has not named a successor.

Chu has held this position since the beginning of the Obama Administration, serving longer than any other energy secretary. In his February 1 letter to DOE employees, Chu described the department’s many responsibilities, explaining “The Department of Energy serves the country as a Department of Science, a Department of Innovation, and a Department of Nuclear Security.”

Chu’s letter touched on many of the department’s accomplishments, including the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, SunShot Challenge, electric vehicles, renewable energy, clean energy, fossil fuel extraction, and climate change, in addition to the following:

“The Department has made significant progress in breaking down the walls between our basic science and applied science programs. The Office of Science and the Applied Energy programs have collaborated from the beginning in the design of Funding Opportunity Announcements. So-called ‘Tech teams’ that span Energy, Science and APRA-E have started to meet regularly in areas such as solar energy, electricity transmission and distribution, computation, and biofuels. Brainstorming sessions where young scientists are encouraged to share ideas and joust with Department veterans have begun.”

“For decades, the Department of Energy, and the Atomic Energy Commission before it, has laid the scientific foundation that has led to transformative discoveries that have been recognized by over eighty Nobel Prizes and trained over forty students and early career scientists (including myself) who have gone on the receive Nobel Prizes. Synchrotron light sources have transformed cancer drug discovery and the battery chemistry being installed to the Chevy Volt. To accelerate this progress, the Office of Science formed 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (ERCs) in 2009. Those centers have published more than 2,400 peer-reviewed papers, produced 55 patent applications and filed nearly 125 additional patent/invention disclosures. Most importantly, they have made significant scientific breakthroughs in areas ranging from advanced battery technology and solar energy to solid-state lighting and nuclear energy.

“Building on the success of the Bioenergy Research Centers started by [former Energy Secretary] Sam Bodman, we launched a set of Energy Innovation Hubs that bring together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and industry partners to work on energy challenges. These Hubs include the use of supercomputers to improve the safety and performance of nuclear reactors, the integration of materials, designs and systems for more economical, energy efficient buildings, and science that could lead to the direct conversion of solar energy into transportation fuels. In the last two years, we also announced Hubs to dramatically improve energy storage systems and one to address the supply and use of critical energy materials.

“During the past four years, the Department reclaimed the lead in high performance supercomputing. Much more importantly, we are working harder [to] use the extraordinary capabilities to achieve our nuclear security, scientific research and industrial competitiveness goals. In the last several years, the DOE has collaborated with industry to eliminate expensive and time consuming engineering prototyping in applications as varied as simulations that have been used to optimize diesel and jet engines, tire treads and the safety of nuclear reactor fuel assemblies. This work adds directly to our industrial competitiveness and job growth in America. In the past two years, we have held several additional workshops specifically to foster industrial collaborations.”

“Our nuclear security teams have removed 1,340 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 35 kilograms of plutonium from vulnerable sites throughout the world - enough material for approximately 55 nuclear weapons - including cleaning out 8 countries of all highly enriched uranium.

“The President secured ratification of the New Start Treaty, under which the U.S. and Russia agreed to further reduce the number of deployed warheads to lowest level since the 1950s -- an 85 percent reduction from the darkest days of the Cold War. And over the last four years, we have worked with our partners to downblend more than 100,000 kilograms of weapons grade uranium from the former Soviet Union, converting it to peaceful purposes like U.S. civilian nuclear reactors. In fact, roughly 10 percent of America’s electricity comes from uranium that once threatened the United States as part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

“We made historic progress in cleaning up nuclear contamination leftover from the Cold War, reducing the total footprint by nearly 75 percent and permanently cleaning up 690 square miles of contaminated land -- an area more than 30 times the size of Manhattan.”

President Obama released the following statement regarding Chu’s announcement:

“I want to thank Secretary Chu for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people. As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy. And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence. Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs. Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future. I am grateful that Steve agreed to join in my Cabinet and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

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