On Friday, March 28, 2014, I had the privilege of attending a symposium at Dartmouth College titled Three Mile Island 35th Anniversary Symposium: The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Energy. If you are curious and have a free nine hours, you can watch an archived copy of the main event on YouTube.
The thing that you will miss by watching instead of attending, of course, is the conversation that takes place in the corridors and common areas during breaks. Without being there, you also don’t have the opportunity to ask penetrating — or pestering — comments.
I was glad I made the trip and hope that I represented Atomic Insights readers well by asking a few challenging questions. I also enjoyed meeting Peter Bradford face-to-face. He is a genial giant (probably 6′ 7″ or so) who is a pleasant conversationalist, even though we don’t share many common points of view about nuclear energy.
My biggest regret was that there was not much time available for the Q & A portions of the event. The program was crowded with a variety of experienced presenters with wide ranging points of view. I cannot think of which speakers should have been given less time, though I can think of a couple demonstrated practiced skills of stretching their answers to ensure that they don’t get too many questions.
Aside: One of my career experiences was being part of a team of staff officers assigned to prepare a flag officer for congressional testimony. One of the techniques we taught him was to answer the easy questions with complete answers that took up as much time as possible. We also worked with supportive congressional staff members to make sure that their congressman was supplied with some questions we wanted the admiral to answer.
I think those techniques are also taught at law school. End Aside.
The symposium leaders did a terrific job of selecting speakers and then organizing them into a coherent program. I suspect that most of the people who attended were enthralled at some point, frustrated at other points and perhaps even a little bit angered at times. Since the audience apparently had as wide a range of opinions about nuclear energy as the speakers, each of those responses occurred at different times for different parts of the audience.
One of the talk sequences that I most enjoyed was having Armond Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force immediately follow Amory Lovins. Cohen is one of the first leaders of an established environmental organization — as opposed to an individual environmentalist — who has revised a previous stance on the use of nuclear energy. He used to oppose the technology but has recently run the numbers to see that renewable energy sources are simply not adequate. He still supports renewable energy development, but believes that the excess capacity that would be required to ensure reliability is completely impractical.
Almost everything that Cohen said directly contradicted something that Lovins stated. That made me smile quite broadly. His talk starts at 7:33:45 of the YouTube archive of the event.
Like one of my fellow pro-nuclear bloggers, Cohen is a hockey fan. He used several hockey analogies in his talk. As he said, we need a lot of shots on goal to tackle the challenge of climate change. He also said it is not a good time to take one of the highest potential contributors off of the ice.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll probably post several individual commentaries on selected presentations. There was a lot of very good information presented, some important observations about past mistakes, and a few interesting predictions about the future.
I now have a new fantasy – sometime soon, a university will organize another meeting with a similar speaker line-up that will be in a larger venue and stretch out over several days. The organizers will work with the housing offices to find low cost accommodations that make the event accessible to students, rank-and-file workers, and retirees. There will be social events planned and plenty of time for questions, answers and hallway conversations.
It’s not too late for such an event to happen this summer, but there is not much time to waste. Snow is melting even in Vermont, spring is officially in progress in most of the country. The first thing I need to find is a willing location, but a close second is a team of volunteers who can make it happen.
A series of such events might result in new friendships, softening of existing positions, and a spirit of cooperation that will enable real progress to be made in turning nuclear energy from a somewhat frightening technology requiring enormous, bureaucratic structures and tight central control into a more accessible, extremely capable technological tool that can fit comfortably into a distributed energy system vision.
Interesting side note: The flag officer whose testimony I helped prepare is mentioned in Tom Friedman’s column titled Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle.