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Independence Day Letter to President Obama - Re: Nuclear Energy Summit

A group of distinguished and dedicated energy experts has composed and signed a letter to President Obama in support of a recent call by a group of eleven US Senators to convene a Nuclear Energy Summit. Here is the full text of the July 4, 2010 letter along with the initial list of signatories. (Note: The text in bold and italics is intended to be an accurate reproduction of the printed letter using available html formatting code.)

July 4th, 2010
To: The President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Subject: Nuclear Energy Summit

Dear President Obama,

We write to you in support of the recent call by a bi-partisan group of eleven US Senators to convene a Nuclear Energy Summit. Although 62% of the American public favors building more nuclear plants now, full realization of our Nuclear Renaissance is severely restrained by a number of shackles that we can remove if we have the will and the wit. Three key steps could be initiated quickly. These would stimulate both job growth and further activity:

1. Decide to license, build and operate one or two nuclear power plants as soon as possible. The speed and effectiveness of our new licensing system is untested. Will it become bogged down for years, as it did in the 1970s? Will it pile on unreasonable restrictions? How capable are our new construction teams? Until such questions are answered, the entire nuclear future is clouded with uncertainty. To give it the best chance, we should start with a design with the fewest unanswered regulatory questions. Technological innovation is not the issue here.

2. Encourage the exploration of small reactor plants of 300 MW or less, for use in a wide variety of applications, including modular power plant units, process heat, ship propulsion, and power for remote communities. Ways must be developed to enable discussions with regulators, without exorbitant cost and time delays. This is potentially a very innovative and constructive activity, with most of the work done in American factories by American workers.

3. At the same time, we should reinstate our program to develop and demonstrate the technology conceived by Enrico Fermi and his colleagues. It was their intent to extract virtually all of the energy contained in uranium by using fast-spectrum reactors operating on recycled fuel. It was never intended that we would limit our nuclear power capability indefinitely to the approximately 1% recovery that we achieve now. And as a bonus, this technology transforms nuclear waste from the perceived 10,000-year problem to a 500-year solution.

None of these ideas is new or controversial. This is the way the nuclear enterprise was envisioned from the beginning. There is really no other sensible way to run it. France, Russia, China, India, Korea, and Japan are already firing up the next generation of nuclear plants, derived and improved from designs we created in our youth more than half a century ago. Over 400 commercial nuclear power plants, and a comparable number of naval vessels, have operated for decades with unprecedented reliability and radiological safety. No non-nuclear system works as well. The principle of breeding more fuel than is used has also been widely demonstrated in several countries, including the U.S. Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology is also demonstrated by extended operation of the FFTF in Washington State and the EBR II in Idaho.

What then is holding us back? Certainly not any inherent or unavoidable problems. Other nations have answered that question, and are already pouring concrete. Radical new ideas are not what’s missing. We need to start building more of what we know how to build, and restore some development and demonstration projects that were interrupted in mid-flight. America has unnecessarily shackled itself with some avoidable burdens. Some problems that look difficult can be seen on closer inspection to be clouded with false perceptions and contradictions.

For example, though some critics claim that nuclear power is inherently uneconomical, several European countries are finding that nuclear power is so reliably profitable that they plan to impose heavy “windfall profit fees” or “unearned income penalties,” and the practice is spreading. The German government announced June 15 that it was imposing an annual tax of Eur 2.3 Billion ($2.8 B) on its modest-sized nuclear industry, and that this “will not reduce the credit quality of nuclear companies reporting earnings of Eur 8.6 and 9.2 Billion ($10 & 11 Billion).” This is not limited to Europe; the Attorney General of Connecticut also proposed such a tax. Nuclear’s competitors are said to be suffering from unfair competition, because they face problems and uncertainties that nuclear plants don’t encounter. This gives us reason to challenge claims that nuclear power is inherently uneconomical, but we certainly don’t support punitive taxes on activity that benefits society.

A lot of information needed to make these decisions is not widely known. Bringing it to decision-makers will require establishing a good working relationship between policy makers and project managers and engineers experienced in these technologies, whose number is few and diminishing. When the Nuclear Energy Summit personnel have been selected, we would like to send further information on America’s long and varied experience with fast-spectrum reactors, liquid metal systems, fuel-breeding, fuel reprocessing, and the like, in addition to what will be needed to get such programs back up to speed. If the relevant facts can be made clear enough, and we bring together the right people, some of these burdens should not be beyond our power to deal with quickly. This is one area of great national interest where significant progress is realistically attainable. Nuclear power is a technology invented and developed in America. The rest of the world is bringing it to their people. We need to get moving!


Theodore Rockwell Leonard J. Koch
Member, National Academy of Engineering Global Energy International Prize Laureate 2004

Additional signatories – in alphabetical order (as of July 4, 2010)

Rod Adams, Commander USN, Served as Engineer Officer on USS Von Steuben
Irfan Ali, President & CEO, Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC)
Joe W. Anderson, Quality Assurance Manager, Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project
Charles Boardman, Cisler Medal Recipient, American Nuclear Society
Edgar T. Brooks, LT, USN Ret. Past Member Naval Reactor Representatives Office (AEC)
Douglas M. Chapin, Member, National Academy of Engineering
Robert N. Coward, Principal Officer, MPR Associates, Inc.
Clarence Creacy, Startup Proj. Mgr. for NSSS, Oconee Nuclear Station
John R. (Grizz) Deal, CEO Hyperion Power
Joseph Falcon, Past President, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Leo S. Gomez, Sandia National Laboratories, Retired
William H. Hannum, Fellow, American Nuclear Society
James E. Hansen, Member, National Academy of Sciences
Joseph M. Hendrie, Former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Jack I. Hope, Member, President’s Office of Science and Technology, 1971-73. Lead, GE Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Prog.
Ray Hunter, Former Deputy Director, Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, U.S. Department of Energy
Nathan Hurt, Past President, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Reed Johnson, Fellow, American Nuclear Society
Kenneth Kok, Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Jay F. Kunze, Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Conrad Ladd, Life Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
John W. Landis, Past President of the American Nuclear Society
Eric Loewen, President Elect, American Nuclear Society, Project Engineer, GEH PRISM
Donald E. Lutz, Career engineering for Fast Spectrum Reactors, Enrico Fermi, EBR II, GE Fast Reactor Program, Ret.
Gerald E. Marsh, Fellow, American Physical Society
Harold McFarlane, Past President of American Nuclear Society. Chairman of International Nuclear Energy Academy
Ralph Moir, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, retired. Fellow, American Nuclear Society and American Physical Society
Robert M. Morse, Bechtel Group, retired Manager of International Power Operations. Worked on 15 Nuclear Power Stations Worldwide.
James E. Owens, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Low Intensity Reactor. Tests for first nuclear submarine, Nautilus. Retired
Charles F. Reeves, Fellow, American Society of Civil Engineers. Consulting Engineer, Stone & Webster Engineerng Corporation. Retired
Donald R. Riley, Chief Engineer, Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project
A. David Rossin, Past Assistant Secretary of Energy. Past President ANS
John Sackett, American Nuclear Society, Board of Directors
Gary Sandquist, Fellow, American Nuclear Society. Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Edwin D. Sayre, Retired from GE. Worked on nuclear power plants worldwide
Robert Schenter, Fellow, American Nuclear Society
Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 Astronaut, Geologist, former US Senator, former ranking Republican member of the Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee.
John Shanahan, Light Water Reactors, USA and Switzerland
S. Fred Singer, Fellow, American Physical Society
George S. Stanford, Reactor Physicist Keith Thayer, Past President, American
Society of Mechanical Engineers
Eugene B. Veek, Past member, New York Academy of Science
Alan Waltar, Past President, American Nuclear Society
E.P. “Dennis” Wilkinson, VAdm, USN ret. Commanding Officer United States’ first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus, and surface ship, USS Long Beach
Thomas G. Williamson, Fellow, American Nuclear Society
Clint Wolfe, Westinghouse Savannah River Company, WSRC, retired


David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jul 8, 2010 6:47 pm GMT

What, insiders and advocates for the nuclear industry are even more unified that climate change is bogus than the Nuke Group of 11 Senators?  And you call them (and yourself)  “distinguished and dedicated energy experts”?  This is joke, right?

Your letter carefully avoids any mention that mitigating climate change might be a reason to accelerate the development of nuclear power.  Yet Senator Inhofe, who stated right on the Senate floor that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” signed the Nuke Group letter which said this:

“As nuclear energy supplies more than 70 percent of the electricity generated by sources that do not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we agree with you that safe nuclear power must play an increasingly important role in meeting our rising energy demand and ensuring cleaner air.”

Is there doubt about what this Administration believes? 

Let’s see:  the Memorandum For the Secretary of Energy signed by President Obama directing Secretary Chu to establish the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future started, in its first sentence, with a statement about why this Administration wants to expand the U.S. ability to generate nuclear energy:

“Expanding our Nation’s capacity to generate clean nuclear energy is crucial to our ability to combat climate change, enhance energy security, and increase economic prosperity”

Obama put “combat climate change” as number 1. 

If climate change is ever taken seriously, the fossil fuel interests will be in the same position as the nuclear industry has been since day one regarding its waste – the public will view CO2 as dangerous and require that it either not be generated at all or that it be safely contained.  The playing field will finally be levelled, and the nuclear industry will take off.  Yet US nuclear advocates and prominent industry insiders can’t agree to even mention this issue that so threatens their chief competitors, even though the open letter is to a President who has left no room for doubt that he wants action on climate.

This letter reads like a call from the military to the President just before Pearl Harbor about the need for an accelerated US military buildup that restricted itself to technical details and poll results while carefully avoiding any mention of why the buildup was necessary. 

Many historians would look at such a letter and wonder that so many of the signatories must not have had one clue about reality. 



David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jul 8, 2010 10:25 pm GMT

PS.  Fred Singer is a signatory to this Independence Day letter. 

Now it was Bogart who famously said:  “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Many would say something like this of Singer. What is he doing as a signer of this letter?

Of all the possible “distinguished and dedicated energy experts” anyone, anywhere, could dig up to sign a letter like this, the most controversial given President Obama’s statement that:

“Expanding our Nation’s capacity to generate clean nuclear
energy is crucial to our ability to combat climate change”

is Fred Singer. Was it Singer who insisted that any reference to climate change be kept out of this letter?  Or is it the case that the signers are so deaf to the issue of climate they have no idea what Singer’s role in the debate has been?  The “Nuke Group” of 11 Senators got Inhofe to sign their letter which included a reference to climate – Singer should have been asked to do the same. 

You might want to refer your fellow signers to the book “Merchants of Doubt” which describes, with extensive footnotes, the role Singer has played in various public policy debates over the decades.  Singer has been dedicated alright, but what he’s been dedicated to is providing intellectual cover for those who wanted to pretend tobacco did not cause cancer, CFCs did not deplete ozone, and greenhouse gases do not warm the planet. 


David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jul 9, 2010 5:22 am GMT

Open letter to James Hansen:

I wondered if you knew that you are listed as signatory to a letter written to President Obama supporting the position of the so called Nuke Group of 11 Senators, which also offers some advice, written by pro nuclear power advocates and nuclear industry insiders, that Fred Singer is also listed as signatory to.
Rod Adams is touting the letter, calling it the “Independence Day Letter to President Obama – Re:  Nuclear Energy Summit” here
Now I understand that politics causes people to have strange bedfellows, and I support your position on nuclear power.  I wonder however, about what Singer has been doing the last few decades, and why, so much so that I think this man will be seen by historians in a very bad light.  I think, in future, that spreading lies and disinformation about climate change will be seen to be about as socially acceptable as spreading hatred towards Jews now is in Germany, due to the fact that, in future, after it is too late, it will be seen clearly that those who spread these lies and disinformation bear a burden of responsibility for what happened by then that few others will at that time share.

S. Fred Singer is about as bad as they come, in this category, as I am sure you are aware.
I just wanted to make certain that you knew your name was listed on this letter as one who signed it, along with Fred Singer’s.
David Lewis

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