Talking Nuclear Progress
A lot of the nuclear blogging community was at the recent American Nuclear Society conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, and some of my fellow bloggers are both more prolific and faster publishing news than I am, but now that I am back from the meeting and the dust has more or less settled, I thought it might still be useful to summarize my overall impressions of the meeting.
The first and most obvious observation is that this meeting is far larger than meetings have been for many years. The final registration for the meeting was over 2150! It was not many years ago that meetings were half that size. This alone speaks volumes to me. It suggests that there is renewed interest in, and enthusiasm for, nuclear power. This interest and enthusiasm is consistent with the upbeat theme of the meeting, "Nuclear Progress!"
The second observation is that there were more younger people at the meeting than there have been in the past. A number of them participated in sessions I attended, and provided thoughtful contributions. For many years, the number of under-30 members and meeting participants remained very small, so it is refreshing to see more new and youthful faces in the audience.
A third observation is that there is a growing interest in communications, including the use of social media. There were two sessions on communications presented as part of the technical program, one on "pro-nuclear advocacy" and the other on "credibility in a digital age." In addition, there was an early evening event for bloggers and participants in ANS's social media group to get together to exchange views, and a late afternoon session another day to discuss what messages ANS and its members should try to bring to the new Congress.
Several speakers, including Marv Fertel, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Craig Piercy, ANS's Washington Representative, spoke about the recent national election and the new Congress. Both speakers expressed cautious optimism. While many signs bode well for the nuclear industry, the continuing concern about the Federal budget deficit makes predictions difficult.
Technical sessions covered many of the usual topics, but there is a noticeable interest in topics related to the future of nuclear power, such as "infrastructure development in support of the nuclear renaissance," "nuclear energy growth in emerging markets," and regulatory and other issues related to small modular reactors (for example, emergency planning requirements). In addition, the opening plenary highlighted the significant developments taking place in some of the other major nuclear power countries, including Japan, Russia, France and Canada.
The talk in the halls was also interesting. With the meeting in Nevada and the recent activities in Washington on Yucca Mountain, questions about whether Yucca Mountain is dead and what the Blue Ribbon Commission is going to recommend were on everyone's mind. There is continuing interest and concern about China's very ambitious nuclear power development plans--where will they get sufficient trained staff? how strong is their regulatory oversight? The ANS conference participants didn't seem to be a heavy gambling crowd, and I saw very few people I knew when I walked through the casino, but that didn't stop people from making soft bets on how many new reactors there are likely to be in the next 10-20 years, and where they are likely to be built.
In short, it was an exciting meeting with lots of new developments discussed, and all the participants I spoke to seemed happy to be there. And if they stayed away from the gaming tables, they went home richer instead of poorer.