On Wednesday, January 11, 2017, outbound Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in what he said was his final major speaking appearance in the capital city. Secretary Moniz emphasized the importance of the U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories and Technology Centers, and the many research and development accomplishes of the Obama administration, of which he was a part for nearly the last four years.
Secretary Moniz addressed a crowd of mostly reporters for a full hour, splitting his time between prepared remarks and questions from the audience. His prepared comments focused on the importance of the National Laboratories and DOE’s accomplishments of the recent past. He also answered audience questions about his views of the future, namely about the future of nuclear as an energy source in the United States, as well as the future administration and how his successor, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, will find the role and Department.
Below is a bullet-point summary of key statements and insights from today’s event:
- Secretary Moniz was promoting DOE’s recent release of two significant documents: 1) the first Annual Report on the State of the DOE National Laboratories; and 2) a new DOE Scientific Integrity Policy.
- The Annual Report is the first of its kind and will become an annual metric to help educate and show the value of the National Laboratories.
- The new Scientific Integrity Policy is meant to ensure: 1) scientists are not asked to tailor their research to a specific outcome; 2) scientists can review what DOE says about their research; and 3) scientists can make any fact-based conclusions without fear of reprisal.
- When asked about his successor, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Secretary Moniz said Governor Perry was not very familiar with role of DOE and the National Labs, but noted “who would be?” Secretary Moniz stated that Governor Perry seemed willing to learn. Secretary Moniz projected confidence that Governor Perry will see value in the DOE and the National Laboratories. Secretary Moniz stated that he had rejected the incoming administration’s request to identify scientists or other personnel who had worked on climate change related science at DOE.
- Speaking about the Iran deal, Secretary Moniz said it would be counterproductive for the U.S. to walk away because the situation now is better than it was, and the coalition involved with the Iran deal is stronger with the U.S. as a participant. The U.S. will be in a worse position if it walks away alone.
- Much of the Secretary’s remarks focused on DOE’s focus on nuclear power and weapons, including nuclear security, nuclear deterrent, nuclear propulsion for the Navy, and nuclear power generation.
- In the short run there are four major nuclear electric generation facilities in development in Georgia and South Carolina.
- The next generation of nuclear development will include smaller “modular” reactors that can generate 50-200 MW of electric power. The first modular reactor design is expected to be filed at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week.
- Secretary Moniz would like to see Congress extend certain tax benefits that currently exist for nuclear electric power generators past their 2021 sunset.
- Most nuclear generators in operation today have been granted 20 year extensions of their initial 40 year life cycle, which means their operations will end between 2030 and 2045. It is not yet clear whether the authorizations for those facilities will be able to be re-extended.
- Nuclear storage is still a work in progress. Secretary Moniz thinks that when the Yucca Mountain storage facility concept began, it improperly excluded our ability to look at alternatives. He thinks what is needed is a consent-based solution, where a state and local government voluntarily works with the federal government to create a national repository for spent fuel. He also thinks that weapons-related spent nuclear material will be easier to address than commercial waste because there is less of it and we are not creating new nuclear weapons material so there is a finite amount of product to store.
- Secretary Moniz was happy to have presided over DOE during a time when 14% of the approximately 2,000,000 new jobs created in 2016 were in the energy industry.
- The Paris Agreement places innovation spending at the forefront. If the U.S. walks away, it is turning its back on innovation spending that could put it at a competitive disadvantage as clean technologies become a reality worldwide. Other countries will continue to research and develop clean technology and we should maintain our powerful presence in that market.
- The National Laboratories consist of 17 different facilities, 3 of which are categorized as national security, 13 of which are categorized as science and technology, and 1 of which is categorized as environmental management, although all the Labs work together on a multitude of issues.
- The National Laboratories consist of approximately 32,000 users/scientists who come to research at the Labs. These researchers come from private corporations, non-profits, and research institutions to unite and research projects of varying depths and lengths.
- Historically, the National Laboratories were a major part of the Human Genome Project, developing technology that has greatly increased oil and gas recovery, and developing technology that is used in Chevrolet Volt batteries.
- The DOE and National Laboratories are the nation’s “engine for science and technology.
- They publish over 10,000 publications per year.
- They obtain more patents per research and development dollar spent than any other institution.
- The labs are an on-call resource for major events, such as aiding in the Fukushima meltdown, assisting in oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, and assisting with complex climate and energy negotiations.
- During the Iran nuclear deal negotiations, Secretary Moniz was in nearly constant contact with personnel from 7 of the National Laboratories to gain advice and technical expertise to aid the negotiations.
- Some future technology that the Labs are focusing on are high performance computing, the Cancer Moonshot Program, and extreme efficiency nuclear electric power generation.
We are happy to discuss these or any other insights as we follow the ever-evolving stories related to the change of administrations.