Kathryn Huff stepping down from DOE Nuclear Energy post

April 15, 2024, 3:04PMNuclear News


After serving two years as the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy, Kathryn Huff will vacate that position on May 3 and return to teaching. Huff had started at the DOE in May 2021, serving for one year as the principal deputy assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy.

“Serving in this capacity has been an unparalleled privilege, and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside you--the dedicated and talented public servants in Nuclear Energy, in DOE, and across the Biden-Harris Administration,” Huff wrote in an email announcement to colleagues last week. “I chose this timing to enable the smoothest transition back to my professorship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where my beloved research, students, husband, and dog await.”


Upon Huff’s departure, Mike Goff—current principal deputy—will step into the role of acting assistant secretary.

Quotable: “Huff is an incredible advocate for nuclear energy research and development,” a DOE spokesperson said. “She led the Office of Nuclear Energy through a pivotal time, working tirelessly to deploy nuclear energy technology in time to help tackle the climate crisis and get to net zero by 2050. Under her stewardship, the Office of Nuclear Energy spurred advanced reactor development, began activities to shore up domestic fuel supplies, restarted a consent-based approach to managing spent nuclear fuel, and strengthened support for nuclear energy research at colleges and universities.”

The spokesperson added, “It’s fitting that under her leadership, just today, the Office of Nuclear Energy will reach more than $1 billion in university awards since 2009. Dr. Huff has been an absolute champion for advancing R&D at U.S. colleges and universities, expanding access to research funding and uplifting the next generation nuclear energy workforce. We wish her well as she returns to academia and her own cutting-edge research.”

Background: The U.S. Senate confirmed Huff as assistant secretary on May 5, 2022. She started at the DOE in May 2021 as the principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy, going on unpaid leave from her position as an associate professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

Huff has been a member of the American Nuclear Society since 2008 and has held leadership positions in the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Division, the Mathematics and Computation Division, and the Young Members Group. She received the ANS Young Member Excellence Award in 2016 and the Mary Jane Oestmann Professional Women’s Achievement Award in 2017.

What’s next: Huff said that she timed her return to the UIUC campus to coincide with the departure of research scientist Madicken Munk, who has taken over many of Huff’s former duties on campus these past three years.

“Reflecting on the past three years, I’m astonished by the tangible progress the U.S. has made in nuclear energy,” Huff said in her note to colleagues. “Reactors once destined to shut down now have a role in our 2035 and 2050 goals, new reactors are coming online, and the commercialization of advanced reactors has begun. We’re also securing the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, restarting a consent-based approach to spent nuclear fuel management, and expanding international cooperation on peaceful nuclear technology. Perhaps most notably, the U.S. joined a groundswell of other nations in committing to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050 (to) address the climate crisis and improve energy security.”

She added, “I will, of course, continue to contribute to the advancement of nuclear energy however I can, for as long as I can, from wherever I am.”

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