Since taking the position, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry has made it his mission to “make nuclear cool again.”
A key prong in this approach is, of course, reaching out to America’s youngsters.
Thursday afternoon, Albuquerque played host to one of the DOE’s “Millennial Nuclear Caucuses” – this one scheduled during the agency’s “Nuclear Science Week” – aimed at bringing together “the next generation of leaders in nuclear innovation.”
“The idea of the Millennial Nuclear Caucus is not preaching and propaganda,” said Suzanne Jaworowski, a senior adviser with the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and emcee of Thursday’s event. “It is education and discussion and conversation that hopefully you’ll continue to be a part of after you leave here.”
The event featured keynote speaker Marius Stan, program lead of intelligent materials design at Argonne National Laboratory and, perhaps more famously, the bushy-browed actor who played Walter White’s jerk boss Bogdan in “Breaking Bad.”
Stan’s speech was followed by a panel discussion of nuclear experts.
Sitting at tables around the ballroom at Hotel Albuquerque were some of the nuclear industry’s best and brightest: nuclear science students from University of New Mexico, engineers from Sandia’s nuclear weapons team and representatives of Arizona’s Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station among them.
This audience did not need to be convinced of the possibilities and promise nuclear energy may hold, so the discussion naturally centered on how the nuclear industry can better promote itself to the general public.
While improved communication was agreed upon by most, Stan cited a single – but not simple – action that would put the public’s mind more at ease about nuclear energy: solving the nuclear waste conundrum.
As exciting as using nuclear reactors to power space travel and developing small modular reactors sounds to some, the issue of what to do with waste remains a key point of contention for many.
“I do wish that there was a more balanced perspective given and more time and energy and perspectives devoted to waste, to the impact to indigenous people and to some of the controversies,” said attendee Eileen Shaughnessy.
Bobbi Merryman, a UNM nuclear engineering doctoral student, said she believes even though much anti-nuclear sentiment is born of fear, it’s beneficial for the industry to hear those concerns.
“I think it’s important to hear those people because they do have important things to say and it makes the industry stronger to understand and to work on the things that people are worried about the most,” Merryman said.