Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Worker Productivity:

A Look at the Numbers

While this is not strictly a nuclear issue, the issue of worker productivity affects all enterprises, so I will take some liberty with the theme of this blog and report on a recent Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study of worker productivity in a number of countries, as reported by Time magazine.

With the recent attention focused on the French law restricting e-mails to employees after work hours, there has been increased focus on issues of overwork and burnout.  The OECD report looks at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per hour worked, and concludes that working more hours does not result in more productivity (as measured by the GDP).  The measure of hours worked is the average for all employed citizens, including full- and part-time work.

In particular, the U.S. came in 5th out of 35 countries in productivity, behind Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, and Belgium.  France, which is famous for its short work week, came in 7th, while Japan, which is famous for its extremely long hours, came in 20th.  What was particularly striking to me was that, with the exception of the U.S. and Ireland, most of the countries in the top 10 group in productivity had an average work week of about 30 hours or less.  Germany, had the lowest average work week (26.3 hours), while the U.S. and Ireland weighed in well above, at 33.6 and 33.5 hours, respectively.  (Remember that all the numbers include part-time workers; hence we don't see the famous 40-hour work week.)  By contrast, the 25 countries following the "top 10" had average work weeks ranging from 30.9 hours (Austria) to 41.2 hours (Mexico).  

Of course, this is one statistic, and I am sure that other statistics might present a different picture.  In particular, I personally wonder how the productivity numbers stack up when one compares particular sectors of the economy.  And one can wonder how much of the difference in hours worked is due to cultural behavior.  I know from my time in Japan that workers felt a kind of social obligation to stay at their desks long into the evening, whether or not they really had something urgent to do.

Still, it is an important indication, particularly in this era of 24/7 connectivity, that we need to rethink some of the assumptions many employees and employers have had about the importance of working longer hours than the nominal work week.

With that off my mind, I promise to get back to discussing nuclear- and other energy-related issues.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Nuclear History:

A New Addition to the Library

I was pleased to get a message a couple of weeks ago from a friend and colleague in France, Dominique Greneche, reporting on the publication of his book on the history of nuclear reactors.  In the past decade, it seems to me that there have been a number of new books on various aspects of nuclear history (including my own on "Nuclear Firsts"). 

This most recent addition to the nuclear history library looks like one of the most comprehensive of the genre.  Unfortunately for some of us, it is presently available only in French, but it looks like it would be a wonderful addition to the collection of anyone who is a Francophone.  And, given the interest in the book, Dominique hopes to have the book translated into English in the future.

I will let the author describe the book in his own words:
I am delighted to announce you that my book on the history and technique of nuclear reactors and their fuels has just been published (with the French editor “EDP-Sciences”).

This 766-pages book is the result of a long and patient work that lasted about five years.

It is the fruit of a vast professional experience which allowed me to enrich the text of numerous personal testimonies. It is also the result of several decades of teaching in engineering schools and French universities as well as in some international institutions. Finally, it is the product of a careful examination of an abundant literature (more than 400 references are cited) including rare documents or materials taken from my extensive personal library constituted during my long career.

The first two chapters (almost 70 pages) are devoted to a retrospective of the great discoveries on atoms and nuclear energy for 2,500 years (Lucretius, Democritus) until the first chain reaction on 2/12/1942 in Chicago (CP-1). I devote a second part to the operation of nuclear reactors, with some reminders of nuclear physics and a concise description of the physics of the cores of nuclear reactors. In a third part (which constitutes the "heart of the book"), I develop all the genesis of nuclear reactors, explaining in detail their structure, especially regarding all possible choices for their main three components that are the fuel, the heat transfer fluids and the moderator. I also explain the history of nuclear power in the major countries (France, of course, but also USA, GB, and former USSR), with paragraphs dedicated to the development of various reactor lines in each country (chapter 14). I describe the major industrial nuclear reactor types: UNGG, MAGNOX, AGR, HTR, RBMK, heavy water (different subclasses), light water (with a direct comparison between PWRs and BWRs and finally the FNRs (chapter in which I examine in particular the "secrets" of FNR physics). I also describe "other reactors" such as naval propulsion reactors (especially submarines) or reactors for space applications (space rockets or spacecraft), again combining the technical and historical aspects. In this part I evoke of course the reactors of the future. Finally, the fourth part is devoted to fuel cycle technologies (including a historical chapter for uranium, for enrichment and for reprocessing) with a special chapter dedicated to thorium.

In short, this book is a broad technical-historical portrayal on nuclear energy and nuclear reactors. It explains in particular the choice of reactor lines and especially the reasons for the dominance of light water reactors today in the world. It has no equivalent in France (and abroad I think), by the extent of the subjects treated and the very close ties that are established between history and the discoveries or founding inventions as well as the development of the nuclear reactors themselves. So I consider that it will be a solid and unique reference in the field of nuclear energy.

It is very successful and is extremely appreciated by those who have started to read it. Besides, I have received praises from several high-level persons in nuclear sector in France.

The book is available from the publisher.

This comprehensive volume looks like an outstanding addition to the growing set of books on the history of nuclear power, and I certainly hope it is successful enough to merit a future edition in English.