In our daily lives, most of us take for granted that electricity will be available. We pull up to our garages in our cars and push the garage door opener and it works. Our refrigerators stay cold. Our houses stay warm. Our lights come on when we flip the switch. But reliable electricity doesn’t happen by accident. One of the most important parts of our industrial infrastructure, a reliable electric grid is achieved through deliberate design that uses a mix of sources that can achieve reliability, low cost, and other specific attributes like low environmental impact. Maintaining a reliable electric grid requires planning, analysis, and understanding of what is happening in the world. Many of the traditional grid reliability standards no longer recognize the reality of today’s constrained electric grids, nor do they account for fuel supply, weather, or the high penetration of renewables.
May 1, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News
April 12, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
Anyone who has heard me speak about the American Nuclear Society recently knows that I like to remind people of the ANS mission and vision statements. I invite people to read the exact words: Our mission is to “advance, foster, and spur the development and application of nuclear science, engineering, and technology to benefit society”; our vision is to see “nuclear technology . . . embraced for its vital contributions to improving peoples’ lives and preserving our planet.”
The meaning behind these statements is that ANS is here to help the profession save the world. I take that seriously: We are here to save the world. This month, Nuclear News is focusing on nuclear science, engineering, and technology’s role in space exploration both now and in the future. When we look at our mission, this is very fitting. The use of nuclear power systems in space goes back almost to the start of ANS. In 1961, the Transit 4A satellite became the first U.S. spacecraft to be powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Combined with solar cells, RTGs have been used on the Moon and on satellites and to explore the solar system and beyond. One of the interesting things about these power sources is that they were used to provide both provide electricity and heat to keep the systems they were supporting from freezing. Since then, additional nuclear systems have been designed and developed—including fission power reactors and nuclear thermal propulsion—that will provide significantly more power and faster space journeys.
March 10, 2023, 9:30AMEdited March 10, 2023, 9:30AMANS News
As president of ANS, I am frequently asked, if it is the American Nuclear Society, why are you concerned with what is happening outside the United States? I usually start with a simple response: Although ANS is incorporated in the U.S., the Society has local and student sections as well as members in a number of other countries and is involved with key issues throughout the world. Although this is true—we have seven international sections and four international student sections, and about 10 percent of our membership is from other countries—it is only part of the story. From the very beginning, nuclear science and technology has been an international collaboration. The U.S. certainly can claim leadership in a lot of the advances in the research and industrial applications of our technology, but most of our advances have been based on active collaboration both within and across borders.
During my tenure, I have seen this firsthand. As travel has opened up throughout the world in the past year, I have visited the Latin American and French sections of ANS, as well as the University of Puerto Rico student section, and I have attended a number of ANS-sponsored technical meetings throughout the world.
February 8, 2023, 7:04AMNuclear News
One of the duties of the ANS president is to visit with American Nuclear Society student sections. As some of you know, I have been doing this both in person and virtually. Although meeting via Zoom and other platforms is easier in terms of scheduling and travel, there is nothing like being able to interact face to face. Visiting student sections in person has been the highlight of my time as president. As I have stated on several occasions, the enthusiasm and excitement I have seen among the nuclear engineering students in the U.S. is nothing short of exhilarating!
When we think of workforce planning, those of us who have had long associations with universities naturally think first of undergraduate and graduate nuclear engineering programs at our universities, but this is of course only a part of the overall solution. The first—and in many ways the most important—part of workforce development is getting our nation’s youth excited about nuclear science and technology.
December 8, 2022, 6:59AMNuclear News
For years the U.S. nuclear industry has done an outstanding job keeping plant availability high while simultaneously continuing to improve safety and economics. With capacity factors averaging more than 90 percent, you would think that no one would shut down an operational nuclear power plant. But that is what we have seen in a number of cases. Fortunately, this now seems to be changing. As I write this column, Diablo Canyon’s new life extension application has just been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for review, and the Department of Energy’s program to support continued operation of nuclear power plants is providing hope that current plants will continue to have the opportunity to demonstrate their operational excellence.
How did we get here? When I ask this question—both of myself and the industry as a whole—I envision this as two sides of the same coin. Through the efforts of many we have improved our financial and economic viability, but challenges remain because the full value proposition of nuclear energy has not been realized.
October 17, 2022, 3:01PMANS News
Recently, while reading an editorial by William Roper in the journal Science,* I was struck by the fact that the health care industry, in the past two or three years, has been experiencing some of the same challenges our industry has had for the past 40 years. Roper opines on the situation that scientists and health care professionals have had to face in a country that is divided not only along political and ideological lines but also about what constitutes the facts. He goes on to highlight that many scientists think there is a need to get the politics out of public health, while many policymakers (who are frequently politicians) think scientists are not the best people to be making public policy decisions. He also notes that of late, “political leaders, media personalities, and ordinary citizens have proclaimed their own ‘alternative facts.’”
As much as I would like to say something like “join the boat”—our scientific community has had to deal with “alternative facts” for years—I would much rather say to the health care community that we can and should all be striving for the same thing: to help the thought leaders of our world understand that we can only succeed if we are all willing to be in the same boat, working together to fix the problem.
September 12, 2022, 3:04PMNuclear News
Much has been written about regulation over the years, including whether or not the nuclear industry is overregulated or whether the regulator is in the industry’s “pocket.” Having a capable and independent regulator is important to the industry for a number of reasons, such as ensuring the safety and security of nuclear facilities and the trust an effective regulator can engender in vendors, investors, international organizations, and the public. However, regulation simply to engender trust or ensure all voices are heard is neither effective nor sufficiently adaptive to support a vibrant and innovative industry. Moreover, overregulation slows innovation, stifles creativity, drives costs upward, and creates scheduling challenges.
So how did the Nuclear Regulatory Commission become the “gold standard” of regulation? The pat response is because of its long history, experience, and available resources. I would contend, however, that what the NRC did better than most—if not all—national nuclear regulators was innovate and develop new ideas and act as the cocreator of the nuclear industry.
August 4, 2022, 2:49PMNuclear News
At the June ANS Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., our Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy used an interesting acronym: he said, “This meeting is so exciting we are going to give nuclear professionals FOMO with respect to ANS meetings going forward.” The term “fear of missing out” was common a few years ago, but I had not heard it recently. So when Craig used it, it really caught my attention. Craig was, of course, correct that the Annual Meeting was great: technically interesting, productive, and great fun, as well. It provided a wonderful opportunity to learn, network, and advance both academic and business goals. However, in thinking about this phrase I realized that in a lot of ways, getting people to realize how important nuclear science and technology is for making the world better is a lot like trying to get people to understand that they are truly missing out.
July 5, 2022, 2:46PMNuclear News
By the time you read this, I will have celebrated my 41st anniversary as a member of the American Nuclear Society. In thinking about this time, I find myself realizing that I have never been part of anything else (besides my immediate family) for as long. I joined ANS when I started graduate school and have been an active member ever since. In that time, I have worked for several employers, been active in other professional and social organizations, lived in four different states, and worked on projects that have taken me all over the world—but my ties to ANS and the people I have met here have been the most influential I have ever known. In thinking about this, I can only come to one conclusion: there is something special about ANS. Is it the technology? The people? For me, it is both.
Recently I was reminded that nuclear is special because we are always under the microscope. Easy as it would be to view this as a curse, I think we need to see this as a blessing. As nuclear science and technology professionals, we need to embrace the opportunity to tell everyone who asks—anyone who comments or even thinks that nuclear has issues—why we are so enthusiastic about what nuclear is doing for the world.