Secretary Steven Chu was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. The discussion was wide ranging, but there’s no question the nuclear sections were the most pointed, especially notable in that Chu did not mention nuclear energy in his opening comments.
Now, we should say that Chu is notably nuclear friendly. Energy Daily (which is behind a pay wall) reported that Chu pushed hard against a directive from the Office of Budget and Management that would limit DOE spending on some nuclear technologies, including small modular nuclear reactor and fast reactor recycling of used nuclear fuel.
Asked about this by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chu said “What we … are trying to do is make our best technical assessment, and it’s a bit of a crystal ball, but the best technical assessment of what could be productive. But because it’s research, we do not want to down select. And so what you’re referring to [the Energy Daily story] is a snippet in a time of discussion where things have not been finalized and so this is a work in progress.”
(All quotes are our transcripts.)
That sounds about right while also tamping down hints of intra-administration disagreement, but it shows Chu’s desire not to let nuclear energy take second seat to its renewable cousins.
“The White House supports nuclear,” Chu said. “We see this as part of the solution. Right now, 20% of our electricity is generated by nuclear; at a minimum, we’d like to maintain that and possibly grow that. For that reason, we are working aggressively to help restart the American nuclear industry with loan guarantees, with research over the out years that could lead to more advanced, safer nuclear power. That is the policy of the administration. The details are still being worked out.”
That’s pretty definitive. Chu also answered questions from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) about the long-promised Blue Ribbon commission to investigate the issue of used nuclear fuel.
“I am pushing as hard as I can [to empanel the Blue Ribbon commission],” he said. “These are complicated issues and there’s a process we have to go through. I’m frustrated that it’s taking as long as it has, but it’s about to happen. And I am not doing a double-talk or slow walking it.”
Corker wasn’t very impressed, but we might add here that, as long as we’ve followed energy issues, DOE is often thought (by Congress people) to be too slow in getting things done. That was true under Samuel Bodman, it’s true under Chu. We’re not saying Corker is wrong here or that DOE is not justified in taking a deliberative approach – but that’s the dynamic. Chu will doubtless hear more about it in future hearings.
The real point that emerged from the hearing is that the administration and the Senate agree that nuclear energy is an important way forward, in terms of energy security and climate change mitigation and increasing electricity capacity. The details change from hearing to hearing, but that reality underlies everything that’s said.
Let’s leave the last word to Chu, who said that nuclear energy “is a very important part of the energy portfolio we will need in the coming century to decrease our carbon footprint.”
You can watch the whole hearing here. If you know your Senators, zero in on Murkowski, Corker and Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) – who makes a funny comment about France to support nuclear energy – and see what you think.
We’re a little Mac-centric ourselves, but since Steve Jobs doesn’t have a Web site of his own, we’ll happily settle for Bill Gates’ new Gates Notes. Since retiring from Microsoft, Gates has been working on philanthropic activities and establishing a broader public profile for himself. Gate Notes combines the two activities.
One feature is a series of podcasts, in which Gates is interviewed on energy issues (currently – presumably, he’ll address different topics over time). He’s right up front in his support of nuclear energy:
"Nuclear energy is worth pursuing, wind and solar are good but have limitations, and the government is putting minuscule amounts of money into energy R&D dollars.”
"[Nuclear energy is] the only thing we have today other than hydrocarbons that provides a lot of power and you could build a lot more of it."
Why, yes, indeed you could. CNET has a story about Gates Notes and its goals.
We guess there’s an irony in Bill Gates doing podcasts – shouldn’t they be zunecasts? – but well worth the listen.
Bill Gates. Did you know the first version of Microsoft Excel was created exclusively for the Macintosh? True story!