Sunday, February 25, 2018

Department of Energy: Nuclear policy, nuclear money, and the millennial caucuses

Secretary Rick Perry and Millennial Nuclear Caucus
October 2017
From Department of Energy website
Starting this past fall,  I finally noticed that the current Department of Energy was not the old Department of Energy. In October 2017, DOE cooperated with the Nuclear Energy Institute and held the first Millennial Nuclear Caucus, in Washington DC. At that event, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry met with a group of young nuclear professionals.  In a post on the DOE website, Secretary Perry said: "I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of young visionaries in the nuclear field this morning." As a matter of fact, the hashtag for the Millennial Nuclear Caucus meetings is #NuclearVisionaries.  Here's a brief video of part of the meeting.

More to come
When I saw the announcement of the first caucus, I felt terrific. The Department of Energy promoting young people and nuclear! Well, the only word was--- awesome!

Next, I realized there was more to come. I learned that the Washington meeting was going to be the first of a series of caucuses.  So far, there has been the first Caucus in Washington, another in Ohio, and a third a few days ago at Texas A&M University.  The Caucuses are listed on this page of the Department of Energy website. Videos of the Caucuses are at the U. S. Department of Nuclear Energy Facebook page

UPDATE: The next Millennial Nuclear Caucus will be March 7 in Washington D.C.

The most recent Caucus took place at Texas AMU on February 20. Once again, the millennial panelists were from various types of nuclear facilities: national labs, start-ups, operating plants. This time, the leader from DOE was Suzie Jaworowski, senior advisor to the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy. Here (hopefully) is a direct link to video of the meeting on the DOE Nuclear Facebook page

Hype or real?
Now, first of all, I would be happy even if this new look by DOE were only hype. I am happy that the the government is holding and co-sponsoring events like the Millennial Nuclear Caucus. Previous administrations tended to act as if nuclear power were some sort of embarrassment. The current DOE Facebook page and the nuclear-positive events show a change in attitude.

However, if you go to the video of the Texas meeting on the Facebook page,  you will see Rod Adams ask a question that he admits puts Suzie Jaworowski "on the spot."  (Move the slider to about 1:02) To paraphrase Adams's question: This is all very good, but the DOE budget proposal has less money for nuclear for next year than it had for this year.  Is DOE really going to be able to support nuclear?

Side note:  Optimism, pessimism, realism  and everything in between before the official start of the Advanced Reactor Summit V is Rod Adams post which includes his comments on the Millennial Caucus meeting.

What was Jaworowski's answer?  Since the budget isn't totally set, the answer couldn't be totally set either. Jaworowski answered that DOE is focusing on its priorities. High priorities include keeping the existing fleet going, and keeping the pipeline of future projects underway. There are also plans for public-private partnerships, with government and private money leading to innovations.

Policy or money?
You might say Jaworowski gave a standard-issue answer, and maybe it was.  But I notice the nuclear group at DOE running events, making videos, posting to FB, and I am encouraged.

The federal government has been running immense deficits for years, and the Republicans are the party of "small government and decreased government spending." Therefore, budget cuts were inevitable, from both a practical (deficits) and policy (Republican) point of view.  Considering that budget cuts will be coming, the new pro-nuclear initiatives of the current administration are very welcome.

In other words, if the major role of the government is to spend money, then things are looking bad.  If the major role of the government is to set policy, then things are looking better.  I think this administration's policies will be pro-nuclear. I believe these policies will have an impact.

I am well aware that support of energy initiatives usually requires both policy and money.  I know money/policy is not a simple either-or.  However, setting policy is the first step.

If you look at Rod Adams post (linked above) you can see a somewhat more pessimistic evaluation of the future of nuclear. I'm not so sure of myself as to say he is wrong.  And he isn't completely pessimistic, either. Maybe I am just an optimist.  Still, I am optimistic about the DOE initiatives.

Only time will tell.

1 comment:

Rick Maltese said...

Rod stated that next years budget is smaller but fails to mention the previous years budget is also way below what it should be. Perhaps a comparison is needed to demonstrate what is an appropriate level of spending should be.