Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year-End Reflections:

A Quick Review

The end of the year is always a good time for stepping back to think about what has happened and what lies ahead, so at the risk of adding to lots of other reflections, wishes, and predictions, I will offer my own, both personal and on a broader level.

On a personal level, my really big accomplishment this year was the completion and publication of my book, Nuclear Firsts: Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development, which I described in an earlier blog. I have never been one to have a list of 101 things to do before I die--perhaps I've been afraid I'd accomplish all 101 things, and then what?--but I have certainly had an unwritten and unnumbered wish list in the back of my mind, and writing a book was always one of the items on that virtual list. Over the course of the last few years, the nearly constant drumbeat of 50th anniversary celebrations made me think that this might be an appropriate topic. So for me, this book on nuclear milestones is a career milestone as well. In recent days, I've been gratified to see some very nice reviews on LinkedIn (accessible to members) and Amazon that suggest that other people agree that this is a timely topic--and that they like my treatment of the topic.

On a broader level, a lot has happened in the past year. I hesitate to try to write a list because I will inevitably leave out something important. Instead of trying to do that, I looked at my blogs over the past year to see if there were any patterns to what I'd covered. Now, my blog doesn't pretend to be a news publication, so there are certainly topics I didn't cover, and what I covered clearly reflects my personal interests. Still, in most cases, the items were spurred by one or more items in the news, so in a sense, my coverage may suggest some trends. Among them are the following:

Principles of Good Regulation: This one is both personal and broader. I have been very gratified to hear and read presentations by some of the current NRC Commissioners, especially Commissioners Svinicki and Ostendorff, highlighting the importance of NRC's Principles of Good Regulation. From the personal point of view, as I reported in an earlier post, I was heavily involved in the development of these Principles when I worked for Commissioner Kenneth Rogers at the NRC some years ago, so it is very gratifying to see that it is so highly regarded. I was also very pleased to discover that the "promotion" of the Principles by the Commissions is reaching audiences abroad, and I recently provided a summary of the Principles for a Japan NUS website.

Small modular reactors (SMRs): I had three or four blogs on SMRs during the past year. There is a growing interest in these reactors, both for small grids in developing countries or remote areas, and even for larger applications (in multiples). There are a number of designs being promoted and many claims being made, so much so that the anti-nuclear community, which had been rather silent on this issue, is waking up and beginning to realize that people may think a small reactor is just about as cute and cuddly as a windmill. (Yes, yes--I realize that not everyone thinks a windmill is cuddly--I mean my statement in both the serious and the sarcastic sense.) Some of the more thoughtful of the discussions on SMRs that I covered included one on an IEEE article and another on a CSIS meeting.

Nuclear waste: This certainly has been a significant year on the nuclear waste front, so I also blogged about this topic several times. Perhaps my most interesting post on this topic was on DOE's decision to withdraw its application for Yucca Mountain and NRC's initial response. I also covered the establishment of the Blue Ribbon Commission and some recommendations on how it should approach its assignment.

Global warming: With the Copenhagen conference having taken place in December 2009 and the continued concern and debate about global warming, I probably hit this topic in one way or another about half a dozen times. The blog on this topic that resonates most strongly at the moment is one on a conversation I had with Lew Branscomb in February where he bemoaned the use of the term global warming because of the doubt it raises in people's minds whenever we are blanketed in snow. Since this winter has already caused a number of snow-related disruptions, both in the U.S. and in Europe, it is timely to remember this discussion.

Other energy alternatives: If anything has surprised me about the topics I've covered in the last year, it is how many times my blogs have not been about nuclear power at all, but rather, about other energy alternatives. Sometimes my coverage has been spurred by articles that seem to compare nuclear power to other alternatives in overly simplistic ways, other times it is because I have been struck by how often decisions seem to be made without thinking ahead--i.e., where there are unintended negative consequences of what appeared to be good ideas. One example that stands out in my mind was on the use of LEDs in traffic lights. They were supposed to save energy, but because they were so efficient, they didn't emit much heat, and therefore, didn't melt the snow in winter, thus causing accidents and fatalities.

The most interesting thing I observed when I went back through my old posts--and which I have not previously commented on--is that I talked much more about wind power than about solar power. It seems to me that wind has emerged as the darling of the renewable movement. Solar power is beginning to be recognized as being land intensive, requiring a lot of water, and having several other drawbacks. Wind is regarded as having less of a footprint. Therefore, it kept recurring as a subject in the news, and I kept covering it. Still, as one of my posts noted, the jury is still out on the actual land requirements, and as another post noted, the comparison is not straightforward.

Between wind, other energy sources, and global warming, I spent a fair amount of time on topics that were not explicitly about nuclear energy. But we live in the bigger world, and as a practical matter, we must understand and react to the pros and cons of other energy technologies and of issues, such as global warming, that concern the public. Therefore, I felt and still feel that these topics were relevant to the readers of my blog. The comments I've received on several of these topics suggest that others feel the same way.

So much for looking back. Looking ahead is always harder. I can say with great confidence that I will not write another book in the coming year. (Not that I don't want to. It's just that it will take me time to gear up to do that again.) I can also say with great confidence that there will continue to be plenty to write about in my blog in the year ahead, both on nuclear power and on other related topics.

A lot of the nuclear-related topics are ones where the emotion has sometimes outweighed the reasoned discussion. One of the reasons I started this blog was that I was seeking complete, factual assessments of nuclear power and the alternatives--the kinds of analyses that tried to figure out the unintended consequences ahead of time, that tried to extrapolate the impacts as demand grows, etc. In that regard, I have appreciated the comments from readers who have helped provide a more complete perspective.

So much as I normally hate New Year's resolutions, I think this is one that I can keep: I resolve to continue to try to add a reasoned voice to the important discussions on nuclear power and other energy-related issues in the year ahead, and I hope to continue to discuss these issues with others who share that interest.

Until then, though, I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy New Year. See you next year!


1 comment:

  1. Gail - Happy New Year!

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts during the past year. Your resolution makes me smile with anticipation of continued excellent opportunities to think about and discuss one of the most important topics around.

    Keep up the good work.