Reports are all around regarding the Obama administration’s plan to seek bunches of money for the nuclear weapons complex, which caught some a bit off-guard. Vice President Joe Biden’s op-ed piece in Friday’s Wall Street Journal laid out some big numbers to support the administration’s nuclear vision. More details will be available Monday in the budget roll-out.
Here’s an excerpt from Biden’s piece:
Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, acknowledges the growing number of foreign visitors to the Oak Ridge lab, including significant numbers from China. But he said there’s a trend toward more visitors in general.
“We’re having more American visitors and we’re also having more foreigners because our programs are increasingly collaborative, we’ve got user facilies that are attractive to people,” Mason said. “A lot of those visitors who are foreign nationals are actually students at U.S. universities. About 50 percent of the graduate students in physical sciences across the country are foreign nationals. I wish there were more U.S. citizens getting advanced degrees in physics, chemistry, biology and so on. That’s something we’re working on. But, nevertheless, these are people who come here to go to school and get educated. Oftentimes, they choose to stay, they start businesses.”
I ran into Thomas Zacharia, ORNL’s deputy director for science and technology, last week during a visit to the lab, and I took the opportunity to ask him about the increase in foreign visitors at Oak Ridge and his perspective on the benefits and risks.
”That’s a very personal question for me, for which I have deep insight. I came here as a foreign national. I came here fresh out of graduate school as a post-doc,” said Zacharia, a native of India. “I’ve devoted my entire professional career to this institution. This institution has been good to me, and hopefully I’ve contributed to this institution. So, as an international scientific enterprise, we want to have the best and the brightest come here, whether they become part of our staff or whether they contribute to the vibrancy of our research, because that’s how science works. There are some challenges, and the laboratory is keenly aware of it. We’ve tried very hard to manage the challenge while maximizing the impact to U.S. innovation and U.S. scientific discovery.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Dept. of Energy’s largest science lab, is enjoying a period of great prosperity, and the number of foreign visitors continues to grow. According to figures released by the lab, the total in 2009 was 6,007. That’s up significantly from 5,092 in 2008.
China again dominated the list, as it has for the past five years, with 1,139 visitors to the Oak Ridge lab, followed by India with 569 visitors. Both China and India are on the sensitive countries list, which means additional security measures are implemented for those visits.
Here’s the Top 10:
Former ORNL research chemist Larry Robinson has been nominated for a position — assistant secretary of Commerce — in the Obama administration.
Robinson (pictured, left, with his Oak Ridge research partner, Frank Dyer) worked at ORNL from 1984 to 1997, when he left the lab to take a position at Florida A&M University. I had an opportunity to interview Robinson on multiple occasion during his tenure at ORNL, usually about his work with neutron activation analysis. Robinson gained particular news attention in 1991 for the evaluation he and Dyer did of President Zachary Taylor’s remains to determine if poisoning was involved in Taylor’s death. It wasn’t.
Ron Crone, ORNL’s reactors chief, said today the plan is shut down the High Flux Isotope Reactor at about 7 a.m. Saturday for maintnenance and refueling. The outage is scheduled for 18 days, he said.
Most of the outage activities will be routine, Crone said. He noted that workers will change out one of the fission chambers and one of the ion chambers (there are three of each), which are used for measurement and monitoring tasks.
The White House today announced plans for a number of political appointments, including the nomination of Jeffrey A. Lane as DOE’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs.
Here’s Lane’s bio distributed by the Dept. of Energy:
Here are some of the early responses issued today in response to the Obama administration’s formation of a Bllue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future:
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn: “This commission and the president’s endorsement of a new generation of nuclear power plants are welcome steps that will enable the United States to catch up with the rest of the world in building the most reliable way to produce cheap, carbon-free electricity. If the president’s budget, as rumored, also increases loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, that would be a third significant step. This will help put our country on a course toward a low-cost, clean-energy future and move us away from a national windmill policy that has been the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats.”
The Departmen of Energy today distributed the memo from the White House that directed the formation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Here’s an excerpt from President Obama’s memo:
“My Administration is undertaking substantial steps to expand the safe, secure, and responsible use of nuclear energy. These efforts are critical to accomplishing many of my Administration’s most significant goals.”
Here’s a copy of the entire memo:
The Department of Energy will sound its sirens on Wednesday as part of the monthly test of the emergency warning system in Oak Ridge. The sirens will be tested between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Y-12, ORNL and the East Tennessee Technology Park. If you’re in the vicinity, you’ll know it.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which will provide recommendations for developing “a safe, long-term solution to manging the nation’s used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.” It is billed as part of the Obama administration’s commitment to restarting the nuclear industry in the U.S.
“In light of the Administration’s decision not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, President Obama has directed Secretary Chu to establish the commission to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The commission will provide advice and make recommendations on issues including alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste,” DOE said in a press statement.
The Obama administration’s 2011 budget request is to be unveiled next week, and ORNL Director Thom Mason said the lab is in pretty good shape to deal with the anticipated budget freeze in some spending areas.
“I think we’re in a position where most of the things we’re doing are tackling pretty important problems, problems that are not going to go away, and I think in a constrained budget environment, where the focus is on what are the top priorities, we should do OK. So, we’ll see what happens when we get the details.”
On the day the Dept. of Energy announced that demolition of west wing of K-25 had been completed, there were tons of questions hanging in air about the path forward on this massive D&D project.
Among those questions is who’ll be doing the work in the future. Gerald Boyd, DOE’s Oak Ridge manager, confirmed that it’s possible that Bechtel Jacobs’ contract could be terminated ahead of its scheduled date at the end of 2011.