Uranium Conference Adds Discussion of Japan Accident

HOBBS, N.M. March 30, 2011 – The Uranium Fuel Cycle Conference has added a new special session to the event, scheduled for April 27-28 in Hobbs. “Japan and Nuclear Energy: What Went Wrong and Its Impact” will feature a policy impact presentation from an official from the Department of Energy.

Conference organizer Dr. Daniel Fine of the N.M. Center for Energy Policy announced Monday that the additional event will give experts a forum to discuss public health and safety, which have stepped to the forefront of nuclear energy discussions since the accident in Fukushima, Japan.

Dr. Van Romero, Vice President of Research and Economic Development at New Mexico Tech, will give a technical presentation, explaining what happened and comparing the incident to the Three Mile Island incident of 1979. Romero also serves as a professor of physics. Previous to his academic position, Romero worked 12 years in the nuclear reactor industry.

Tim Beville, of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, will join Romero in the special session, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. April 28. Beville will discuss how the accident in Japan will affect U.S. nuclear energy policy and programs.

“This will be the first public forum to review public safety issues in the nuclear energy industry since the incident in Japan,” Fine said. “This is terribly important because of the potential loss of public confidence in nuclear energy.”

Fine said that public polls showed that 60 percent of Americans opposed nuclear energy after the Three Mile Island incident. Public sentiment did not begin to change until 2005, he said.

“Do we want to see another generation of loss of public confidence in nuclear energy because of the accident in Japan?” he said. “That topic underlines this special session.”

Fine said Beville’s presentation represents the first time a Department of Energy official will present the federal government’s position on future nuclear energy development in America since the Japan accident.

“This is a major response in the Southwest and in New Mexico to create a national forum for nuclear energy in the future,” Fine said. “We’ll present a technical review of what went wrong in Japan, but also look at U.S. policy and program review in terms of the consequences of the Japan accident.”

Fine said the Uranium Fuel Cycle Conference will be the first public education event outside Washington to focus on Japan and its impact on nuclear energy in the United States.

In his presentation, Romero will examine what has happened at the Fukushima Reactor from a scientific and engineering perspective, without a political spin.

“My intention is to make sense of all the information available,” he said. “I want to put the facts out there and allow people to make an informed decision about the viability of nuclear power in New Mexico.”

Romero said he expects the incident in Japan to slow down development of new nuclear reactors in New Mexico, but he hopes recent events promote continued discussion about the future of American energy policy and how U.S. leaders can craft policy that promotes safe nuclear energy.

“The events in Japan have raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power,” Romero said. “If you listen to the news, it seems like there’s nothing but crisis after crisis. Yet, nothing has really happened. There is cause to be concerned. Like anything, there are risks; we need to understand those risks and act appropriately.”

Romero said two lessons learned from recent events are that smaller reactors are probably safer and that storing spent fuel at the reactor is not a good practice.

Also in the realm of public safety, the conference will address issues regarding development and licensure of reactors in seismically active zones, such as California, which gets 15 percent of its energy from two nuclear reactors, Fine said.

The event takes place in the energy corridor of Eastern New Mexico with capital investment in uranium enrichment and waste/storage and with uranium tailings recovery potential. Small Modular Reactor technology will be presented as a new and innovative technology choice for deployment.

Both Romero and Beville will present projections on the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. Southwest – also a conference first.

The Special Session is part of a planned two-day conference organized by the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy beginning the morning of April 27. For registration and information see the Center for Energy Policy website.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech