Life in three dimensions

October 18, 2021, 9:01AMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

This month’s Nuclear News is dedicated to the people and technology that keep our nuclear energy facilities running. It’s one of the great untold stories of the modern industrial world: how a band of highly trained people have repeatedly and skillfully applied novel technology to keep decades-old nuclear plants running at peak performance. The feat itself can be hard for the uninitiated to fathom. It’s as if a 30-year-old pickup truck was still on the retail auto market and beating out brand-new models in Consumer Reports’ vehicle safety and reliability ratings.

On alpha, flak, and jack

September 7, 2021, 9:30AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy
cpiercy@ans.org

This month’s issue of Nuclear News focuses on the role of probabilistic methods in assessing and mitigating the risk of adverse events at nuclear plants and facilities. It’s a timely topic as we move to launch a new generation of nuclear technologies, but it is only half of a larger question that is universal to the human condition: Are the rewards of a particular thing worth its attendant risks?

Nuclear engineers use hard technical terms like “probabilistic risk assessment” and “core damage frequency,” but other industries have much more colorful ways of describing the holistic risk-reward construct in their world. In finance, it’s known simply as “alpha.” A zero alpha investment suggests that its returns are commensurate with the associated risks. Negative alphas get pushed to the curb, and “high alpha” deals get Wall Street hedge fund managers their house in the Hamptons.

Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places

August 2, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Per Nuclear News tradition, this month’s issue is dedicated to highlighting our nuclear technology supply chain. U.S. nuclear suppliers have certainly seen their share of challenges in the last decade or so. The widely anticipated “Nuclear Renaissance” of the early 2000s gave way to Fukushima, then a wavelet of plant closures that ANS President Steve Nesbit addresses in his column on page 15 of the August 2021 issue of Nuclear News.

However, the nuclear narrative has taken on a more positive tone of late. Significant federal investments in advanced nuclear energy systems, coupled with a broader recognition of the need to decarbonize, has stoked excitement for a new generation of U.S. technology on the verge of scaled commercial deployment by the end of the decade. Hopefully, in the words of Washington Nationals manager Davey Martinez, whose team went from a 19–32 record to World Series champs in 2019, “Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.”

Is nuclear finally getting the credit it deserves?

June 15, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

“Prejudice” is a word we hear often these days. The dictionary defines it as a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” In our current public discourse on race and gender, prejudice hangs in the air like a persistent fog that obscures the path to real progress. But prejudice is also a much broader societal phenomenon—our caveman brains are constantly looking for quick shortcuts (which psychologists call heuristics) to make sense of the world, which often leads us to conclusions that are outdated, unfair, or just plain wrong.

The amazing capacity of nuclear

May 28, 2021, 7:00AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Historically, we have used the May issue of Nuclear News to analyze capacity factor data for U.S. nuclear plants. Once again, the topline story is the continuation of a 20-year period of outstanding operational performance. In 2020, the U.S. nuclear fleet generated about 789.9 TWh of electricity, surpassing coal to become the second-largest source of electricity in the nation. Overall, the fleet recorded a median three-year capacity factor of 91.33, besting the three-year median of 91.20 published just last year. With some of our most venerable plants among the top performers, it’s no wonder that several utilities are investing now to ensure their plants can generate clean energy into their eighth decade or beyond.

An open letter to Secretary Granholm

April 6, 2021, 9:09AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Madam Secretary:

Congratulations on becoming America’s 16th secretary of energy! Welcome to one of the most misunderstood, confounding, yet important and underappreciated agencies in the federal government.

Even the name—the U.S. Department of Energy—is misleading. Given that the majority of its funding and operational focus is dedicated in some form or another to the splitting and fusing of atoms, the DOE should probably be called the Department of Nuclear Technology and Other Energy and Science Stuff.

Communication lessons learned from Fukushima

March 11, 2021, 7:03AMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

It is hard to believe that this month marks the 10-year anniversary of the Fukushima accident. If I close my eyes, I can recall exactly where I was when I first heard the news—standing in a hallway in the Russell Senate Office Building with soon-to-be ANS president Mike Corradini, having just briefed Capitol Hill staff on the role of universities in the U.S. nuclear R&D enterprise.

“There’s something happening in Japan,” I recall him saying, as he looked intently at his phone.

Volcanoes and other failures of imagination

February 10, 2021, 9:30AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Low-probability, high-consequence events. In the nuclear community, these scenarios are on our minds every day, but for the rest of society, 2020 has been a painful reminder that powerful forces are at work in the natural world that have the ability to radically change the course of civilization in a relative eyeblink.

EU Taxonomy to Include Nuclear Energy as Sustainable Energy Source ANS Position

December 21, 2020, 10:25AMPress ReleasesCraig Piercy

A PDF version of the letter can be downloaded here.

I write on behalf of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) to recommend the EU’s inclusion of nuclear energy as a sustainable energy source securing Europe’s prosperous future. ANS and the 10,000 nuclear technology professionals it represents are committed to advancing, fostering, and promoting the development and application of nuclear sciences and technologies to benefit humanity.

U.S. university programs: Lighting the way to a brighter nuclear future

December 16, 2020, 6:58AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

We have dedicated this month’s edition of Nuclear News to university programs and their contributions in advancing the field of applied nuclear science and technology and readying the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Say what you want about the condition of the U.S. nuclear enterprise today, but there is no denying that our university-based programs in nuclear science and engineering are still the envy of the world. You can see it in the way these programs attract students and faculty from across the globe, and from their formative contributions to technologies, such as the NuScale power module and many of the advanced reactor designs being developed today.

Do we have enough “People of Nuclear”?

November 6, 2020, 7:06AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

This month’s issue of Nuclear News focuses on the People of Nuclear and what it means to be a member of the “Fellowship of the Atom.”

The nuclear science and technology (S&T) community in the United States and around the world has had a tumultuous existence since the early days of Curie, Fermi, and Rickover. As one friend puts it, “I’ve seen the demise of nuclear four different times, but we’re still here.”

Calling balls and strikes

October 13, 2020, 3:00PMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

As a not-for-profit scientific and professional organization, the American Nuclear Society’s raison d’être has always been the advancement of nuclear science and technology. While many among our diverse ranks may see themselves as advocates, it is important to recognize that ANS the organization will never take the place of industry trade associations like the Nuclear Energy Institute or the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council. No, we will always be dedicated first to serving the men and women of the nuclear community, both here in the United States and around the world, as a source of news, technical knowledge, professional development opportunities, and scientific fellowship.

This should not in any way dissuade us, however—either individually or as a community—from engaging in the public discussion about nuclear technology, especially when debates become tainted by outright falsehoods or “fake news.” As we have seen in stark relief over the past eight months of pandemic-dominated life, the scientific community has a societal obligation to stand up and set the record straight when misinformation crops up. Simply put, we have to be prepared to call balls and strikes.

Low-dose radiation has found its analogue

September 9, 2020, 7:58AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Nuclear News.

This issue of Nuclear News is dedicated to highlighting advancements in health physics and radiation protection as well as the contributions of the men and women who serve in these fields. It comes at a time when COVID-19 is providing the entire world with an immersive primer on the science of epidemiology and the importance of risk-informed, performance-based behavior to contain an invisible—yet deadly—antagonist.

The U.S. nuclear supply chain: Time to start the climb

August 12, 2020, 4:30PMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Originally published in the August 2020 issue of Nuclear News.

Dear reader:

Let’s face it. The U.S. nuclear manufacturing and supply chain is not what it once was. In the 1960s and ’70s, America was the dominant player in the global nuclear industry. Under the auspices of Atoms for Peace, U.S. companies successfully provided reactor systems and associated services to countries across the world and held significant sway over the course of future nuclear development in the international arena. America was at the top of its nuclear game.

Our flagship moves forward

July 16, 2020, 7:06AMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Originally published in the July 2020 issue of Nuclear News.

Dear reader:

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the new Nuclear News! What you are seeing is truly the product of a team effort, led by our Director of Publications John Fabian and veteran Editor-in-Chief Rick Mi­chal, to fundamentally reimagine the way we bring you news and insights from the wide world of nu­clear science and technology. Nuclear News has always been the flagship publication of the American Nuclear Society, but in recent decades our visual format has gotten a little, well . . . long in the tooth.

Making the best of the "new normal"

May 19, 2020, 12:58PMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy


Dear ANS Members,

In the midst of a global pandemic, it feels insufficient somehow to begin a letter with the oft-used expression of hope that it “finds you well.” We are all affected by COVID-19 in some way that makes us less “well” in our lives, whether caused by the virus itself or the socioeconomic ramifications of our response to it. Perhaps it is more realistic for me to hope that you and your family are healthy, generally well-provisioned, and gainfully occupied as we all, collectively and individually, find a way to make the best of our “new normal.”

Sustainability and impact

March 13, 2020, 3:05PMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Dear ANS members,

As you know, the staff and I are in the midst of implementing a significant overhaul of ANS operations, as guided by the letter and spirit of ANS Change Plan 2020.

We are off to a good start. We have changed the ANS organization chart to knock down silos and bring fresh leadership to our Publications and Digital Technology Departments. We have embarked on a major overhaul of our IT infrastructure to leverage the advantages of cloud computing and significantly improve our cybersecurity posture. Our first visible improvement will be a modernized ANS website, scheduled to go live for members and the general public in a matter of weeks, followed by digital access to Nuclear News and related content this summer.