As Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), you will be taking on an awesome responsibility. You will now be responsible both for the policy direction of this department, and for managing a number of functions of the department.
Having been involved in nuclear power development, and associated energy policy in the US and in several other countries, and having served in several management positions within DOE and its predecessor agencies, may I offer some comments and suggestions.
The most vital function of DOE is to assure competent management and maintenance of our nuclear arsenal. This is a non-routine function, as nuclear weapons are by their nature unstable. And constant technology advances require continuous upgrades.
The next priority results from the fact that there are the wastes and byproducts of past and current nuclear weapons work, and the critical need to advance safeguards procedures and practices. The current policy of plutonium denaturing in light-water reactors (the MOX program) is ill-conceived and has been poorly executed. This should be replaced with a simple straight-forward fast-reactor denaturing program, as GE has proposed for the British. The programs for processing of enrichment wastes and by-products is taking orders of magnitude too much time and money, and has been hampered by the political interference with use of the essentially complete Yucca Mountain repository. Yucca Mountain should be declared operational, and available prepared wastes (such as at West Valley and that already processed
at Savannah River) should be shipped there immediately.
On the civil side, energy is critical to the well-being of our (and every) country. We have let energy policy be dominated by a single concern, known as “global warming,” or “climate change.” Whether the claims and fears of those pushing the “climate change” agenda are correct or not, the one fact that seems to be incontrovertible is that atmospheric CO-2 levels are rising beyond historical normal levels. The only way to insure ample energy to power a growing economy without CO-2 is nuclear power. Nuclear power in the US is faltering because of the failure of the government (DOE) to provide for the closing of the nuclear fuel cycle. In addition to Yucca Mountain, noted above, this includes failure to accept ownership of used nuclear fuel and its ultimate disposition, as Congressionally mandated. A consolidated storage must be established immediately, and the technology for effective recycling of the used fuel demonstrated. Each of these can be accomplished with a modest portion of the budget which has been available to DOE, by proper assignment of priority.
Other than that, the best energy policy is to let the market do its thing. Do not choose favorites or promote one energy source over others. Remove barriers, and enforce compliance with rational safety and environmental regulations.
Most of the other functions of DOE should be reviewed. Many are competent basic research, but whether that is a proper function of DOE should be evaluated.