Monday, March 30, 2015

Octave Du Temple:

Some Personal Recollections

 I was saddened to hear, earlier in the month, that Octave Du Temple, the first Executive Director of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), died on March 7.  I have been trying to wait until an obituary was published to which I could link for a fuller account of his career, but I do not want to wait any longer.  A short bio appears on the ANS website, and a fuller story about his career, written about 5 years ago, appears on the website of Michigan Technical University (MTU), his alma mater.

Neither of these articles touch on the huge influence he had on the lives and careers of so many ANS members and others during the course of his tenure as ANS Executive Director.  I am sure that many stories of his influence will be told in the coming months as we all process the fact that he is no longer here to advise and guide us--and yes, occasionally to push and prod us.  This is my story.  

I first met Octave as a young professional, just out of graduate school.  To tell the truth, my meeting  him, and in a sense, much of my career, was shaped by a small, trivial thing--a pink badge.  As I've previously recounted, ANS, in the early 1970s, used pink badges for spouses of registrants at ANS conferences.  The first ever paper I was scheduled to present at a professional conference was at an ANS meeting in Washington, DC, where we lived, so of course, I invited my husband.  He did not like wearing a pink badge, and he wanted me to do something about it.

Taking on the establishment was not exactly my forte in those days, but I finally decided that I should start by doing a survey to convince the ANS management that there were other female members of the ANS, and that meant they might want to come up with a slightly more gender neutral badge (although I don't think we used words like "gender neutral" back then).

To make a long story short--or at least, shorter--getting ANS to support the survey brought me to his attention and led to an enduring friendship.  (And, yes, ANS ditched the pink badge.)  Octave had a unique way of providing guidance and assistance, whether it was for the survey or for other things I tackled later.  "You see," he'd say conspiratorially, "They're going to think--or say--this, so what we want to do is..."  And he would then outline some steps I should take, make some phone calls himself, or otherwise grease the skids.

It was through him that I made most of my initial contacts with the icons of the Japanese nuclear establishment, contacts that have, in many cases, endured to this day, either with the individuals he originally introduced me to, or with the people they, in turn, introduced me to.  The amazing thing was that I hadn't even asked him for help.  I had simply mentioned that I was planning a trip to Japan, and the next thing I knew, he had handed me a list of people in Japan that "you really ought to meet," and had called them to let them know I'd be contacting them.

He accompanied the first ANS delegation to China in 1983, which I was fortunate to join, and there, I also connected with many of his Chinese contacts.  His interests and knowledge extended well beyond the nuclear field.  He knew I was Jewish, and as we traveled overnight by train across China, I recall him coming into the cabin where my husband and I were staring into the darkness beyond our window to point out that we were passing Kaifeng, which had been the site of a small community with ancient, but mysterious, Jewish roots.

Over the years, we had conversations about many matters--ANS activities, of course, but also more general nuclear matters, and some non-nuclear matters as well.  I learned bits and pieces about his background, some of which are alluded to in the MTU link.  One thing that always impressed me is how, even many years later, he remained grateful to the people who gave him assistance early in his career.  He knew, for example, that I knew Manson Benedict, who had headed the Nuclear Engineering Department at MIT when I was a student there, so made a point to tell me that Manson's family held a special place in his heart for the scholarship that had enabled his education. 

He was also ahead of his times in many ways, and once told me that he was happy he was still the Executive Director when the first woman was elected president of ANS (Gail de Planque, who served as president in 1988-89). 

He influenced me in many ways, large and small, directly and indirectly.  I attended one event where he was called to the stage to make some remarks.  He pointedly walked to the side of the lectern on the stage instead of staying behind it, telling the audience that, being short in stature, he felt disconnected from them if he stood behind a box.  I took that observation to heart when I began to make a lot of presentations, and I have regularly driven conference organizers crazy as I insist that I don't want a microphone that pins me behind the lectern.

In fact, at one point, perhaps noticing how strong Octave's influence was on me, my husband jokingly started referring to him as "Uncle Octave."  I thought that was rather fitting, as he seemed to deal with me and so many others in the ANS as a kind uncle trying to provide help and guidance.

Although Octave retired more than 20 years ago, we kept in touch for quite some time via occasional e-mails and holiday cards.  In recent years, his replies dropped off, although a couple of years ago, in response to a card I had sent him, he sent me an e-mail to remind me to spell his name with a capital 'D' rather than a small 'd.'

So, even though I haven't seen him for a number of years now, I still feel a deep sense of personal loss knowing he is gone.  RIP, Uncle Octave.  


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nuclear News from Japan, Part 2:

An Interesting Rumor

In my last blog, I reported on some of my observations during my recent meetings in Japan.  In this blog, I will continue my report.

I have many friends and acquaintances in Japan, both inside and outside the nuclear field.  This wide circle of friends sometimes gives me an opportunity to get insights into non-nuclear aspects of Japanese society, or to get views of nuclear issues from a Japanese perspective outside the industry.

My recent trip to Japan gave me such an opportunity.  At this point, I would have to classify what I learned as unsubstantiated.  Still, I think it is worth mentioning my conversation in this forum.

Over lunch one day during the trip, one of my acquaintances from outside the nuclear field, after pumping me for my views on various aspects of nuclear power, suddenly turned to the subject of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the support he has expressed for the reopening of some of Japan's idled nuclear power plants.

This acquaintance noted that Abe was very pro-nuclear.  However, he said, there are local elections scheduled in the coming months, and furthermore, the Prime Minister is putting forward some controversial proposals to amend the Japanese constitution to modify the provision that "renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation" and promises that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."

Since nuclear power is very unpopular in Japan at the moment, and since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party needs the support of other parties to pass this amendment, he opined that Abe might want to have nuclear power keep a low profile until after the elections and after the constitutional amendments are finalized.

Hence, despite some approvals for restarts from Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), my friend suggested that any actual restarts might be delayed until after these issues were resolved.

I want to hasten to say that he was unclear on whether this was his personal view or a widespread view, whether there were any signals from the Abe administration to support such a view, or how such delays might be assured.  (There are opportunities for delay in the local approval requirements, but my understanding is that there are differing views in different local jurisdictions.)

My friend does dabble in Japanese politics, so he certainly knows more than I do about such matters.  However, at this point, I have no other educated views on the subject.  Therefore, I am only passing this information on as a factor that Japan watchers may want to keep in mind as events unfold in Japan in the coming months.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Nuclear News from Japan:

Several Perspectives

I just returned from a couple of weeks in Japan, where I had the opportunity to meet with a number of people, both in and out of the nuclear field.  One highlight was that I was invited to give a presentation to a group of industry executives.  The talk was scheduled at what turned out to be a pretty eventful time.

In my presentation, I was asked to cover several subjects that were of particular interest to Japan in their post-Fukushima environment.  These included the US actions, both by the regulator and by industry, following Three Mile Island, and the efforts in the US to improve the capacity factor of operating nuclear power plants.  I was also asked how public confidence was rebuilt after TMI.

To address these questions, I had prepared a talk that touched on a number of areas, among them, the evolution of the Principles of Good Regulation in the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The presentation particularly focused on the issues of independence and openness.  

Just two days before I delivered my talk, the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) posted on their webpage a report from their international advisory group.  The advisory group is made up of former regulators from several countries, including Richard Meserve, a former chairman of the USNRC and current chairman of the IAEA Nuclear Safety Group; Michael Weightman, a former executive head of the British Office for Nuclear Regulation; and Claude Lacoste, a former chairman of France's Nuclear Safety Authority.

The report from the group specifically expressed a concern that a mandatory review of the performance of the NRA could lead to a loss of independence of the agency.  The news hit the front page of the Japan Times the morning I was scheduled to speak.

When the NRA was started, the enabling legislation provided for a review of the operation after three years of existence with a proviso to consider placing it under the Cabinet Office.  While the advisory group welcomed a review of the NRA's performance, they expressed concern that that the potential for the agency to be brought under the Cabinet Office could subject the agency to political interference, and could risk undermining its independence.  They noted that this independence is crucial to the effort to restore public confidence in nuclear power. 

I had already planned to address the subject of regulatory independence in my talk, but this timely announcement made the presentation seem particularly in tune with the news of the day.  I was able to refer to the announcement and to discuss political independence very specifically.  I also discussed independence from the industry, and the difference between independence and isolation.   

In addition, I addressed industry behavior, particularly the problems that arise when operators try to hide problems, whether from the regulator or from the public.  I didn't refer to any particular incident, but I was aware of past attempts to present a positive "face" to the world--often called tatemae in Japan--and knew this was an important issue.  

Thus, I was very disappointed to discover that the news just a couple of days after my talk contained a report that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had just announced a possible leak of contaminated rainwater that it had known about since last May.  Unfortunately, even if the leak is minor, such behavior is counterproductive to the efforts in Japan to rebuild public confidence.

I came away from Japan with the feeling that there is still much to be done there to change the institutions and the behaviors of the nuclear community in a way that will truly assure a higher level of performance and that can ultimately help rebuild public confidence.  



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nuclear Anniversaries--March:

An Exceptional Month

Last month, I reported that February was a rather thin month for nuclear anniversaries.  This month, if anything, the opposite is true.  March seems to hold many memorable moments in the history of of the development of nuclear power.  Sadly, March also marks the anniversaries of two of the most serious accidents in the history of nuclear power.

Most of the anniversaries highlighted below are described in more detail in my book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development:

March 1, 1970:  First on-line refueling in a full-scale reactor (Douglas Point Plant, Douglas Point, Canada)

March 12, 1945:  First practical separation of uranium (K-25 gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee)

March 14, 1955:  First reactor training program established for foreign students (Argonne International School, Argonne, Illinois)

March 14, 1958:  First approval for radioisotope food irradiation (using Co-60 to inhibit potatoes from sprouting, in the U.S.S.R.)

March 19, 1974:  First power reactor in South America (Atucha-1 in Lima, Argentina)

March 23, 2000:  First plant to receive license renewal (Calvert Cliffs, Lusby, Maryland)

March 26, 1999:  First geologic repository for transuranic wastes and first purpose-built deep geologic repository (WIPP, Carlsbad, New Mexico)

March 30, 1953:  First true pressurized water reactor and first reactor built to supply energy for an application (mechanical energy for submarine propulsion) (STR, also known as S1W, Arco, Idaho)

March 30, 1961:  First closed-loop (Brayton) gas turbine cycle reactor; first land-transportable, mobile nuclear power plant (ML-1, NRTS, Arco, Idaho)

March 31, 1952:  First non-zero power LWR (MTR, NRTS, Arco, Idaho)

The two accidents I mentioned above, of course, are historic in their own right.  These are the March 28, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island Unit 2 in Pennsylvania and the March 11, 2011 accident at Fukushima, Japan.  TMI-2 is the first serious accident at a major power plant, and Fukushima Daiichi is, among other things, the first accident that involved multiple units.  Both have had (and in the case of Fukushima, are still having) major effects on the evolution and development of nuclear power.

As always, some developments have proved more important than others to nuclear power development, but all are steps forward in different ways.  In addition to the number of "firsts" this month, what is also impressive is the variety (different kinds of reactors, as well as propulsion, enrichment, repository, and food irradiation), and the fact that these events took place in several different countries and several different states in the U.S.