President Obama announced on Monday his new appointees to lead the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency: Ernest J. Moniz at DOE, and Gina McCarthy at EPA. In his remarks, reported the Wall Street Journal today, Obama said the said the two would lead efforts to "do everything we can" to combat climate change. At EPA, McCarthy previously headed up the air quality division, where she formulated rules to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants, curtail pollution from coal-fired power plants, and set standards for new coal plants that in effect will make it impossible to build them without incorporating radically new technology.
Moniz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has a PhD in nuclear physics, is very well known in energy circles as a leader of MIT policy studies and as the former top scientist in Bill Clinton's energy department. Among other things, Moniz was a major player in the 2010 MIT study that vigorously embraced natural gas. That attitude will not make any waves in the Obama administration, which equally has embraced gas. His advocacy of innovation in nuclear power may be of greater import. At the time he was serving in Clinton's DOE, he told IEEE Spectrum that we needed to "raise the headlight beams" in nuclear--which we took to mean that we need to look further ahead, more sharply.
That could be good news for developers of smaller, modular, more inherently safe reactors, like those described in the August 2010 issue of Spectrum—a subject outgoing Energy Secretary Chu had little or nothing to say about in his voluminous parting remarks to colleagues.
Photo: MIT Energy Initiative
Postscript: Shortly after this was posted, the Nuclear Energy Institute's president and CEO issued a statement welcoming the appointment of Moniz, noting his service on the administration's blue-ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, and citing specifically the commission's recommendation that a group of consolidated spent fuel storage facilities be built while a permanent solution to the nuclear waste storage problem is developed.