Nuclear Grand Challenges at the ANS 2016 Winter Meeting

By Will Davis, reporting from the 2016 ANS Winter Meeting in Las Vegas

ANS President Andy Klein presents  his Nuclear Grand Challenge initiative at the President's Special Session.

ANS President Andy Klein presents his Nuclear Grand Challenge initiative at the President’s Special Session.

Last night, American Nuclear Society President Andy Klein, along with a large room full of ANS members, undertook an important step in Klein’s “Nuclear Grand Challenges” initiative.  The many dozens of members attending had their first chance to personally interact with and participate in Klein’s vision for ANS’ near and mid-term future.

The Nuclear Grand Challenges concept was introduced to the ANS at the prior Annual Meeting, held last June in New Orleans.  The concept is itself rather simple:  Professional societies such as ANS from time to time create internal initiatives to drive forward whatever profession it is that their membership is populated by.  This specific initiative will, at least on the part of ANS, determine a number of specific technical problems or hurdles facing nuclear energy or nuclear technologies – of course, with the aim of directing effort at the overcoming of these challenges.

Klein feels that this program will be his hallmark as ANS President.  Klein was quoted recently in the print publication Nuclear News as saying that he believes that such a project should not just be one of the society’s leader, but rather a project for the entire membership of the society; he was adamant last evening that this initiative not be his, but rather the society’s. For that reason, Klein has initiated a contact process with the ANS membership; members anywhere can go at any time to to enter their ideas for major technical challenges facing nuclear technologies.  (Members can also log on to ANS Collaborate and converse directly with their Professional Divisions, a process already well underway in some Divisions.)

Participants discuss suggestions for the Nuclear Grand Challenges.

Participants discuss suggestions for the Nuclear Grand Challenges.

Grand Challenges at ANS Winter 2016

Last evening’s event however was the first ‘face to face’ live event bringing membership together to work on developing what Klein hopes will be “somewhere between six and ten” Grand Challenges.

Klein told attendees that the plan is “to identify, accumulate, analyze, vet, select, release and most importantly, promote a set of technical (with the emphasis on ‘technical’) ANS Nuclear Grand Challenges that need to be addressed by the 2030 time frame.  These are professional and technical in focus; they are designed to improve the economic, political and public perception of the various nuclear technologies.”  Klein said that he wanted to help mobilize the whole ANS membership around a central, forward moving project and that it would be done through the Professional Divisions.  Klein told the members that this was an “all hands project.”  Klein told the audience that Divisions should keep all the Challenges they generate but that only a select six to ten total would be moved into the national initiative and actively announce and publicize as a whole organization.  Klein imagines, he said, that these Grand Challenges and pathways to their solutions would then very likely become the sorts of things discussed at future ANS meeting technical sessions and in embedded topicals familiar to attendees.

The timeline for the initiative moves well into 2017.  Initially, from now through March 2017 the Divisions will each identify (by popular submission and then selection) one to three Grand Challenges each.  In March and April 2017, the Division Chairs (essentially acting as a committee) will select out of all the various divisional submissions six to ten overall Grand Challenges that will be made the official challenges to be met by the society.  According to Klein there may be as many as 66 challenges submitted to the group of Division Chairs, making it a serious job to whittle down to around ten only.  These final ‘operative’ challenges will be formally announced next year at the ANS Annual Meeting in June (being held in San Francisco).  After that time, ANS will work to bring attention to these challenges and get policy makers, the NRC, vendors and the public aware of these challenges and solicit their support to ANS in solving them.

John Kotek, Acting Assistant Secretary, US Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, spoke to the attendees about some of the things that might constitute challenges that ANS could focus on; these points echoed his talk in the Opening Plenary about Secretary Moniz’s eight significant points for advancing nuclear energy (see ANS Nuclear Cafe’s reporting on that presentation here.)


Engaged ANS members consider suggestions for President Klein’s initiative.

All of the tables in the venue were labeled with cards denoting the ANS Divisions, and members were divided up to work with their peers by Division in discussing and identifying challenges (after listening to Klein and other speakers.)  About 100 suggestions were received at the session (and later, according to ANS Communications Director Tari Marshall) signifying a great involvement by those attending the session.  The cards will be routed to the Divisions along with the suggestions obtained through the other channels.  The Nuclear Grand Challenges initiative is on the move!

3 thoughts on “Nuclear Grand Challenges at the ANS 2016 Winter Meeting

  1. Hugh Kendrick

    I agree completely with Jim Hopf’s comments: the issue is economics and the market. Of course, safer technologies are always important, and we should be preparing the next generation.
    In the meantime, the mothballing idea above is an excellent approach, which might be worthy of Government support in terms of “buying insurance” as Senator Alexander suggested recently.

  2. Jim Hopf

    One initiative that could significantly help nuclear in the short term, is regulatory reforms that would allow nuclear plants to be mothballed and returned to service if and when market conditions improve. That could prevent the permanent loss of large clean energy assets which a large amount of money has already been invested in. This is discussed in the following Rod Adams article:

    Although it is not really “technical” in nature, my sincere hope was that it would be introduced as one of the “technical challenges” that ANS could work on or help with. Not sure if it was.

    In any event, I would encourage ANS members to read about this (at the above link) and do what they can to help this effort out. That could include coming up with technical or regulatory solutions to this problem, or reaching out to people who may be in a position to affect change.

  3. Jim Hopf

    “Klein told attendees that the plan is “to identify, accumulate, analyze, vet, select, release and most importantly, promote a set of technical (with the emphasis on ‘technical’) ANS Nuclear Grand Challenges that need to be addressed by the 2030 time frame.”

    Ah yes, a sole focus on technical “solutions”, even though most of nuclear’s problems are non-technical in nature, including prejudices and skewed risk perceptions on the part of the public, and unfair policy and regulatory playing fields. While it’s possible that technology improvements could help economics somewhat, it’s not clear how they could improve perceptions or political problems.

    Most of nuclear’s economic problems are due to un-level policy and (especially) regulatory playing fields, as opposed to lack of technological merit. Therefore, the potential of better technology (e.g. advanced reactors or fuel cycles) to reduce costs is relatively limited. For nuclear to be competitive, changes in public attitudes, policies and regulations will be required. As for public perceptions and nuclear’s political problems, it is very unlikely that any advanced reactor design will result in nuclear opponents ceasing to call nuclear unsafe, or the public all the sudden shedding their fear of nuclear, or their perception that it is one of the most dangerous sources. (Facts, such as the increased safety of new designs? Their views are already completely at odds with the facts!)

    As the ANS is made up of engineers, it’s understandable that they would prefer to work on technical issues. It’s what they know how to do, and what they enjoy. However, the truth is that in order for ANS to remain relevant with respect to securing a bright future for nuclear power, they’re going to have to expand the scope of their efforts (and get outside their comfort zone.).

    For people who want to make a difference with respect to nuclear’s future success, I would recommend joining groups like the pro-nuclear environmental group Environmental Progress, or the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, which advocates a carbon fee and dividend program.