by Tom Blees
The Science Council has had another incredibly busy year. While we highlight key activities with periodic articles on our website, we try to provide the big picture in this annual letter to friends and supporters.
In Paris last December, during the UN-sponsored Conference of the Parties (COP 21), SCGI actively promoted unprecedented attention to the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change. The case was made by four world-renowned climatologists: Drs. James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley. Kirsty Gogan, co-founder of Energy for Humanity, organized a 90 minute, standing-room-only press conference and interviews that generated extensive international media coverage – close to 40 print, audio, or video reports. This was followed by a packed plenary session that featured Jim Hansen, Prof. Sir David King (UK climate envoy), and representatives from UNSCEAR and the IPCC. The reason that these events are truly remarkable is that this was the first time in the history of COP meetings that nuclear power was included for consideration as a source of clean energy.
In Washington DC, SCGI has been nurturing bipartisan support for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear power systems. We have had the opportunity to meet with Senator Cory Booker and his energy advisor, as well as with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s energy specialist, on multiple occasions. Both Booker and Whitehouse are pro-nuclear Democrats with sterling environmental credentials, who are working on legislation to streamline and accelerate development of promising new nuclear technologies. SCGI was also represented at an advanced nuclear summit in Washington, sponsored by the bipartisan think tank Third Way. Prominent lawmakers and industry leaders spoke in support of expanded nuclear power R&D in the US.
Our efforts to encourage nuclear power technology cooperation with Russia have unfortunately experienced recent reversals. Vladimir Putin has backed away from cooperation on both nuclear weapons and nuclear power agreements. However, nuclear scientists in both the US and Russia continue to take the long view when it comes to these issues, so we’ll continue to promote collaboration. SCGI’s charter member Dr. Evgeny Velikhov still has considerable stature within Russia, and we are also in frequent contact with Russia’s nuclear power agency, Rosatom. As a member of Russia’s Global Energy Prize committee, I have the opportunity to visit Russia at least twice a year to maintain and nurture these relationships.
South Africa has continued to seek advice from SCGI. They are planning the construction of nearly ten gigawatts of nuclear power. This past May, we were invited back to share our knowledge with both government policymakers and public audiences. We engaged in TV and radio interviews that enjoyed continent-wide distribution. A recent article written for South Africa’s premier engineering journal as a follow-up to that visit has generated a bit of a tweetstorm and constructive conversation. Nuclear energy could provide an effective response to many of the country’s social and economic challenges and SCGI is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the discussion. South Africa is, in many ways, a model for development elsewhere on the continent, and getting this nuclear program right can have far-reaching implications for its neighbors.
The past year has also included two trips to China. The first one, organized by Dr. Jim Hansen, brought together Chinese and US climate and nuclear experts for the first time. Participants explored opportunities for further collaboration in developing clean energy solutions to climate change. SCGI was subsequently able to continue our conversations with Chinese scientists active in advanced nuclear power R&D. Dr. Hansen and other participants shared the vision of the group in an article in Science (Aug, 5 2016). It calls on the US government to support cooperative efforts by the US and Chinese engineers to develop nuclear power technology. The second trip to China was for a technology conference designed to provide access to high-level Chinese policymakers to discuss energy and environmental issues.
We are also making progress in South Korea and Japan. This past year Nobuo Tanaka, former director-general of the International Energy Agency, joined us for a trilateral nuclear cooperation conference in Idaho. The conference reaffirmed the desire of energy experts in all three countries to cooperate in nuclear technology development. The nuclear 1-2-3 agreement between South Korea and the USA was finally renewed, with a compromise between those anxious to employ IFR technology quickly in Korea and US negotiators who want to discourage new types of nuclear power development on the Korean peninsula. The latter reflects a view that this would discourage North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, that horse is long since out of the barn. The new agreement implies changes in the near future that will allow them to build their new IFR-type fast reactor and fuel recycling facility. Stay tuned.
Australia popped onto the nuclear energy scene this year. Dr. Barry Brook, a charter member of SCGI, and his colleague Ben Heard, have teamed up with a dynamic senator to propose development of advanced nuclear reactors in South Australia. Ben’s hard work on the proposal for the senator resulted in a relatively rare royal commission to study the concept, and Barry was asked to be one of the “royal commissioners”. For a country that has no commercial nuclear power plants, the boldness of their vision for a nuclear future is impressive.
SCGI continues to pursue the development of electrically powered long haul trucking in the US. In addition to progress in motors and inverters, two battery technologies are in the works that look particularly promising. Nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries, a technology jointly developed by Panasonic and Tesla, seem likely to dramatically increase the already impressive 155-mile range. More recently, lithium-air batteries (the Holy Grail of battery researchers) may overcome some of their hurdles as a result of a fortuitous meeting with a physicist-inventor at the recent conference in China. SCGI has facilitated a meeting between the physicist and the electric truck designer we have been following these past few years, and the two are eager to work together.
The Science Council continues to find and facilitate opportunities for solving the major challenges facing humanity and the environment. Our past and future accomplishments, however, are only possible because of the generous support of our many donors and volunteers. We hope that you’ll continue your support by making a tax-deductible donation. It is a truly cost effective opportunity to participate in promoting a better quality of life for all – for many generations to come.
On behalf of the dedicated volunteers at SCGI, thank you.