At the ANS Annual Meeting in New Orleans in June, ANS President Andrew Klein introduced the Nuclear Grand Challenges project, which is aimed at understanding the technical challenges facing nuclear science and technology. To identify those challenges, ANS will be accepting ideas from members and the public from now until March 2017. Klein discussed with Nuclear News Associate Editor Tim Gregoire his goals for the project and how the final challenges will be chosen.
What was the impetus for the Nuclear Grand Challenges initiative?
I attended the last two convocations of the American Association of Engineering Societies—of which the American Nuclear Society is a member—in Washington, D.C., and the president of the National Academy of Engineering, Dan Mote, spoke about the grand challenges for engineering that the academy had identified. A few of them were nuclear- and energy-related, including nonproliferation and fusion energy, along with carbon sequestration development and solar energy, among other things. I had also served on a space science advisory board for NASA, and it had a few community committees that every 10 years or so would have the National Academy of Sciences put together a survey of what the things are that we need to work on most and what we need to discover and learn over the next 10 years. So I thought, “What are the grand challenges for nuclear energy?” That is where the idea came from.
I felt that I didn’t want to do this alone, that this is a project that should be done within ANS, to come up with the grand challenges of nuclear. My longstanding belief is that as a society, we should have community-driven, community-decided priorities to help guide us. Other scientific and engineering societies and organizations do this, so why not us?
Why do you feel that now is a good time to embark on this project?
We need to start somewhere, and I decided that I wanted something like this to be the hallmark of my term as president. This is one of the things that I think is important for the nuclear community because these grand challenges, or decadal survey results, give us a lot of power to talk to Congress, the Department of Energy, and other funding agencies about what is really important. It is what we decide as a community is important, rather than a few people at some agency.
What are your hopes for the project?
The end result is somewhere on the order of six to 10 Nuclear Grand Challenges that are important to the ANS community, not only to be able to talk about those points with Congress, the DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other agencies, but to talk about them with the public and among ourselves. I suspect that some of these ideas may be picked up by our divisions as the subjects of topical meetings down the line. What we come up with may provide focus over the coming years as to what are the things we think should be done and how do we get started doing them.
What kinds of recommendations from ANS members and others are you looking for?
We are a technical society, so these should be technical ideas and technical challenges. I feel that if we could solve some of these problems by, say, 2030, it would help the state of nuclear energy in the world and would help move progress on different types of energy. It may also help solve some of the economic, sociological, or political issues that we face.
Can you provide an example?
As someone who likes to come up with ideas, I have had to force myself not to, because I do not want to taint the waters. I will put them in as part of the process, but this is not an ANS-President-Andy-Klein set of grand challenges.
How will the ideas be vetted, and what will be the outcome of the chosen recommendations?
The process we have set up is that starting in October, we will begin opening up submissions on the ANS website. For the general public, or any non-ANS member who wants to submit ideas to us, there will be a Twitter-like, 140-character place to input ideas, and we will collect those ideas and vet them. Or, if you are an ANS member, you can log in and provide much more detail—attachments, additional discussion—to help further define and refine the idea.
We will then take those ideas and parcel them out to our 22 professional divisions and technical working groups. I have asked each of the ANS divisions and working groups to come up with a process of their own for deciding what the top one to three grand challenges are in their respective disciplines. That means we may have as many as 66 different ideas. Some of these ideas may be cross-disciplinary and fall into a couple of different divisions, so we may need to distribute some of them to multiple divisions, and they can talk to each other about how they might move them forward.
Once we have the top three ideas from each division by March of next year, we will begin to select the six to 10 that will become the ANS Nuclear Grand Challenges, which will be announced at the ANS National Meeting in San Francisco in June 2017. Those division-level challenges not selected will still be noted and will not be forgotten, because those are the ones the groups will have worked hard to identify and put together, and they may be useful as topical subjects.
The important thing is that the divisions will choose how they want to select the ideas. This is not a mandate from on high in any way, shape, or form. We are inviting them to be a part of this, and I hope that they will all join in and provide ideas for us to consider, and then further use those ideas and start working on them in the coming years to benefit nuclear and humanity. I am excited about the opportunity here, the possibility that we may be able to help drive a conversation, or series of conversations, about the difficult things that we need to do and work on that will have an impact on the capabilities of nuclear science and technology and will help deliver the nuclear promise.
This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Nuclear News.