I echo Mr. Bishop’s praise for the students. I was impressed by how knowledgeable both teams were. It was heartening that the arguments went beyond the why question, as it signals that these bright minds and future leaders recognize that nuclear has a place in America’s energy mix.Each year, hundreds of university students from around the country participate in local, regional and national debate tournaments. In addition to their regular studies, they spend countless hours researching the topic and how best they can argue their position. The topic for this past year concerned U.S. energy policy with regard to domestic energy production. The precise wording was as follows: “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce restrictions on and/or substantially increase financial incentives for energy production in the United States of one or more of the following: coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, wind power.”At each debate, the two-person team arguing in the affirmative chooses where to focus the argument based on the year’s topic. Under debate rules, the team arguing in the affirmative makes its case, the team arguing the negative makes its case, each team questions the other, and then each team makes its closing statements. It is an hour of focused intellects trying to win the judges’ votes based on their research, presentation skills, and mastery of the topic. Debates at the collegiate level, at least now, are not among nerds mumbling into their notes, but rather bright, intelligent, articulate young men and women happily and forcefully engaging in a battle of wits.
Last week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a debate on one narrow aspect of the broader issue of the use of nuclear energy: whether the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy should fund the development and use of new small modular reactors (SMRs) to power their facilities. Under the rules, that was the sole topic under discussion. It was fascinating to watch two teams ranked among the very best in the nation, a team from Georgetown University opposed a team from Northwestern University, go at it. Teammates Andrew Arsht and Andrew Markoff represented Georgetown arguing in the affirmative, and Northwestern’s team consisted of Peyton Lee and Arjun Vellayappan arguing in the negative. During the course of the give and take in the closely timed segments, each team had to address issues such as the design features of SMRs, the impact of the current sequestration of funds affecting government agencies, the NRC licensingprocess, high-level radioactive waste issues, security at government facilities, terrorist threats, micro-electric grids, and disaster planning. All as they might relate to the government’s potential use of SMRs.
Andrew Arsht and Andrew Markoff
These are college students. Two juniors, a sophomore, and a senior, and not one of them even an engineering student. Yet their knowledge of the physical, engineering and political environments in which decisions will be made, and facets of the issue far beyond the assigned topic, was remarkable. I’ve had the benefit of almost fifty years of being involved in nuclear energy, first in submarines, then state energy policy, then a major utility, and then the broader nuclear energy industry. I was impressed.
Arjun Vellayappan and Peyton LeeAnd don’t even ask about what they know compared to what I knew as a college senior.