Posted on June 1, 2010
Tennessee's high-tech future became more secure last week when the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the Oak Ridge National Laboratory would become the nation's top research facility for the future of nuclear energy. It is fitting that the laboratory that brought us into the nuclear age would be chosen to plan for its future.
The laboratory was awarded a five-year, $122 million grant to create the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. It is this type of basic, government-funded research that ultimately leads to innovation and new products in the private sector. The new research hub will include partners from other national laboratories, industry and universities. It will bring together the best minds to tackle one of the nation's and world's most pressing long-term problems, the development of alternative energy sources.
Oak Ridge boasts two the world' most powerful computers capable of modeling nuclear reactor design outcomes leading to major developments in reactor safety and engineering. The results are expected to fundamentally change how the nation designs and manages its nuclear facilities.
Sen. Lamar Alexander has long been a proponent of increasing the nation's use of nuclear energy. Other nations around the world rely much more on nuclear power than the U.S. The critical factors in creating nuclear energy are safety, cost of construction and nuclear waste management. Fortunately, much has been learned in recent years to aid in solving these problems. It is time to move past "Three Mile Island" nuclear accident fears and begin to research and implement new nuclear energy models.
The Gulf oil spill is turning into the nation's worst natural disaster and fueling greater interest in alternative energy. Worldwide rising demand for oil and political uncertainty in the Middle East compromise the future of any nation that relies on oil for energy production.
The time has come to move nuclear energy out of the postwar, Soviet-era mentality that it can become an uncontrollable nightmare. That thinking must be balanced against events such as the Exxon Valdez and Gulf oil spill environmental disasters. European nuclear reactors have been safely producing a large percentage of Europe's energy for more than two decades. It is time to move the nuclear energy industry into the 21st century. The new research hub at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is designed to do that.
America must become less dependent on foreign oil. We must develop energy technologies we control. And we must do so in ways that are safe for people and the natural environment.