Wednesday, July 22, 2009

To start this blog, below are the titles and short descriptions of a series of essays I developed for Japan NUS (a technical consulting firm on energy and environmental systems) in 2008 and 2009 and links to the full essays. The essays are also available in Japanese.

The full initial series consists of six essays. (Note: For previous readers of this blog entry, at the date the blog was first initiated, July 22, 2009, the first five had been posted. The sixth was in preparation and expected to be available shortly. A summary of the sixth essay and a link to it have now been added below.)

(Note 2, added November 21, 2015:  The URLs previously provided have been changed.  A new URL with direct lines to all 6 of these essays plus another 6 I did later for JANUS are on a new website.  The essays have been reformatted.  The links below have also been updated.)

I should also add a note here to say that I was honored to be selected as the first guest editor to the "Global Energy Essays" of JANUS, and that I much enjoyed writing the series. In fact, in large part, that is what inspired me to start this blog.

1. Making Predictions about the Future (July 2008)

I recall Yogi Berra's famous sentiment, "It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future," and identify some of the problems we seemed not to anticipate in trying to introduce new technologies (for example, impacts of ethanol production on food prices and environmental problems in disposing of energy-efficient light bulbs). I note some of the ways society can approach the development of new energy technologies in ways that better protect us against possible negative impacts of new technologies that we cannot, or do not, anticipate.

2. What a Waste! or Why We Need Plan B (September 2008)

Prior to the election last year, it was clear that support for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository was crumbling. I summarized some of the history that led to the current predicament, contrasted it with the history of waste repository development in several other countries, and outlined some of the possible next steps in dealing with nuclear waste in the United States.

(I note that since the election, President Obama has withdrawn funding for the Yucca Mountain project and announced that a high-level committee will be assembled to review the options for waste disposal. These options will include those discussed in the essay.)

3. Nuclear Power Plants and Cheese (December 2008)

This somewhat light-hearted approach uses a quote by a past NRC Chairman, Ivan Selin, that “in France, there are 365 kinds of cheese and one kind of reactor. In the United States, it’s the opposite” to discuss the practical consequences of that difference in approach. It also notes that Japan has an approach that falls somewhat between the two extremes, and notes the consequences of that.

(It should be noted that Chairman Selin's quote is a modification of a sentiment expressed by Charles de Gaulle that it is hard to govern a nation that has so many kinds of cheese.)

4. Nuclear Power and the Next Kyoto Protocol (February 2009)

This essay reviews some of the successes and failures of the current Kyoto Protocol and proposes some issues that should be addressed in the discussions of an extension of the protocol. One issue covered is the treatment given to nuclear power in the current Kyoto Protocol.

Another issue is the importance of engaging the developing world. This issue is currently the subject of discussion between the United States and India.

5. Knowledge Management: The Blind Men and the Elephant of the Nuclear Era (May 2009)

This essay covers a topic of emerging importance in the nuclear industry--the preservation and transfer of accumulated knowledge and experience over time. The title is based on the parable of the blind men and the elephant, where the blind men all visualize the elephant in different ways, depending on where they touch it. Likewise, there seem to be different issues associated with knowledge development, depending on whether one is concerned about research results, operations, personnel turnover, etc. The essay covers some of the issues and some of the possible measures that can be taken.

6. Nuclear Power in a Global Context

In this essay, which is the last of the series, I try to bring together a number of my observations on international issues developed over the course of my career. I try to summarize how international issues affect the nuclear community and to suggest some ways in which the nuclear community can deal with the international arena most effectively. I examine some of the current international collaborations and their roles, both in the safety area and in the development of advanced nuclear technologies. I also lay out some of the challenges I see ahead, both for countries that presently have nuclear power plants and for new entrants to the field.

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