Breakout sessions with three acknowledged experts in the areas of nuclear policy, nuclear plant operations, and nuclear regulation were the highlight of an innovative and engaging Opening Plenary at this year’s ANS Winter Meeting
Describe – Discuss – Direct
The three panelists were introduced by meeting General Chair Ed Halpin, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, whose idea it was to change the usual format to a new one. Under the new format, each panelist first gave a short description of his or her position and then ultimately was off to his or her own break-out session. Jessica Lovering of the Breakthrough Institute led off with a discussion on communicating nuclear energy either in light of climate change or in the absence of any discussion of it. Bob Willard, chief executive officer of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, then discussed opportunities that his organization sees for U.S. nuclear plants. Finally, William Ostendorff, commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, described the U.S. nuclear plant landscape from a regulatory perspective.
After a short Q&A session with all three panelists on the stage, each panelist was dispatched to a corner of the large Disneyland Resort Hotel ballroom hosting the event for personal interaction, and the attendees were encouraged by Halpin to select whichever group interested them more for engagement. The three were swamped and still had more questions to answer when they returned to the stage for a final summary.
In the final summaries all three panelists made it clear that nuclear professionals need to get out and communicate about the benefits of nuclear technology now more than ever. There is a definite knowledge gap for the public, and it is to us that the public will look for honest, straightforward information about nuclear technologies generally and nuclear energy specifically.
During his remarks Commissioner Ostendorff made a number of observations about the NRC generally and Yucca Mountain specifically that are of interest to ANS members and the public. Some are condensed below:
- The final volumes of the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for the Yucca Mountain repository should be out by January 2015, and for these Ostendorff said that there are “no show stoppers.” There are, however, some 300 contentions to Yucca that may take years to adjudicate.
- The NRC is not responsible to guarantee a spent fuel repository; that is the job of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Congress, which latter guides momentum of the project by allocating funds. Ostendorff noted that the new Continued Storage rule (replacing the Waste Confidence rule) does not require long-term geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
- There is absolutely no need to expedite transfer of spent nuclear fuel from spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants in the United States to dry cask storage.
- The NRC is not by either design or mandate a politically motivated entity; its job is to regulate and not to dictate policy.
There were, of course, many other interesting and significant things that occurred during the Opening Plenary. These were just a few of the highlights.
(Will Davis for ANS Nuclear Cafe. Davis is reporting from the ANS 2014 Winter Meeting this week, here and on twitter – @ans_org.)