Two Recent talks by PhDs from the US Department of Energy (DOE)

I recently had the opportunity to hear two separate presentations in two different venues regarding nuclear energy. One was a basic introduction to nuclear power and other was about the Fukushima reactors. Both presentations were given by two nuclear engineers from the Department of Energy.  One recently retired from INL (Idaho National Lab) and the other is currently employed by Sandia.

I will start with the first presentation.  Dr. Steve Piet has spent his career with the DOE at INL.  He has degrees in nuclear engineering from MIT.  He has also spent a considerable amount of time working on ITER (hot fusion).  He used the word “when” not “if” regarding hot fusion and was even asked by a member of the audience why he did so.  He replied that he thought that hot fusion would eventually power our society one day, even if it is in the distant future.

Dr. Piet explained the basics of nuclear energy and how it differs from chemical energy (millions of electron volts (Mev) for a nuclear reactions versus electron volts (ev) for a chemical reaction – burning gas, coal etc.) and how the energy is released through fission, fusion, or radioactive decay.

After the presentation, someone asked Dr. Piet about thorium. (It wasn’t me).  Dr. Piet replied that he thought there was some merit in thorium, but that it had been “oversold”.  I took the opportunity to give a UTE business card to the gentleman who asked the question.  Dr. Piet also went on to explain some difficulties with thorium mining.  I wasn’t much persuaded by the discussion, but my expertise is not in mining.

I concluded that it was ironic for Dr. Piet to claim that thorium was oversold, but hot fusion was “when” not “if”!

At least he presented a chart that technical people can understand that shows why nuclear energy beats all others. click here:

Energy density

The second presentation was given by Dr. Randall O. Gauntt, Manager Severe Accident Analysis Department at Sandia National Laboratories, entitled “Demystifying the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident”.

Dr. Gauntt spent an entire month in Japan right after the tsunami and advised the Japanese government (at the request of the US DOE) regarding the nuclear accident.

He started off by telling the audience that he was “pro-nuclear”.  He then spend the next 40 minutes going over the forensics of the earthquake, tsunami, and damaged reactors, talking about how it is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up the damaged reactors at Fukushima and how the land is contaminated with radiation.

I was thinking to myself that if he is pro-nuclear, I would hate to imagine what an “anti” would say about Fukushima and the future of nuclear power that Dr. Gauntt did not already say.

I wanted to make a quip about him, being “pro-nuclear”, but I had been invited by a guest and didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t say anything.  However, another member of the audience asked him why he is still pro- nuclear after Fukushima and he replied that because of CO2 and climate change, “the only way we can hope to power our civilization is with nuclear power”.  (I agree that we ought to power our civilization with nuclear energy. ed.)

I think his presentation did more to turn people from nuclear energy than to persuade them that it is something that our civilization should pursue.  If I didn’t know what I know about nuclear energy, I would be thinking, “Why should we choose nuclear if you haven’t demonstrated why we need it and if accidents can occur that cost hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up and leave the land contaminated for decades if not hundreds of years? This seems like a risk with no benefit.”

Fortunately, I know better and I hope that the readers of this site know why we need nuclear energy and that it is safer than existing sources of energy that are capable of powering industrial civilization.

During the Q & A, I asked about LNT and ALARA inflating concern and regulatory response about the degree of contamination around Fukushima. He agreed that LNT and collective dose are incorrect, but he also said that the “NRC is wedded to LNT”.

My conclusions from these two presentations:

  1. Nuclear PhDs are poor spokesmen for nuclear energy.
  2. The DOE is a poor custodian and spokesman for our nuclear future.
  3. The NRC and LNT need to get a divorce. (Both probably need to go)

I view the benefits of nuclear power like the difference between Mev and ev – the benefits of nuclear power are millions of times greater than those of chemical power!


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