Powering the Future

Robert Laughlin, Department of Physics, Stanford University

Monday, November 18, 2013 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

This talk will follow the rough outline of Robert's recent book, Powering the Future: How We Will (Eventually) Solve the Energy Crisis and Fuel the Civilization of Tomorrow. Robert will take the audience past contemporary politics through a mental journey to a time, several centuries from now, when nobody uses carbon-based fuel out of the ground anymore, either because they have banned the practice or it is gone. The world will be warmer then, although exactly how much warmer depends on events to come. What is this time like? How do the people make their living? What do they learn in school about us? While scientific discoveries of the future are difficult to predict, some of the future is very predictable by virtue of the immutability of physical law and human nature. People wishing to live well will still need energy. The energy in question will still be conserved. It will still have to be procured from somewhere in prodigious amounts and discarded into space after use. Chemical bonds will be the same as they are now. So will gravity. The constraints on energy storage will be the same. Nuclear waste will still be dangerous. Thinking through the energy and climate problem backward in this way is easy to do, and it clarifies the present-day situation immensely.

Related Themes:

Going Underground: Safe Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel

 Burton Richter, Director Emeritus, SLAC National Accelerator Labaratory

Monday, January 23, 2012 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

Nuclear reactor fuel after it comes out of a reactor is intensely radioactive and dangerous.  It is literally too hot to handle for 4 to 5 years after it comes out and is stored under water, and then too radioactive to be stored without massive shielding.  How to ultimately dispose of this material has been the focus of both technical and political controversy.  The deep underground repository planned for Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been abandoned after twenty five years of R&D, leaving a new site to be found and characterized before used fuel can be put away.  The problem is mainly political, rather than technical and in this presentation I will discuss the technical and political issue that got the US into its current situation.  Other countries (Switzerland, Finland, and France for example) have no problems like ours.  A new high level commission has been working on what to do and their report is due out at the end of this month, though its main points are already available and I will review how the spent fuel issue can be managed.

Related Themes:

Whither Nuclear?

George Frampton, Jr., Covington & Burling LLP

Monday, November 7, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

As unlikely as it may seem, the future of the commercial nuclear industry, except perhaps in a few European countries and in Japan, appears to have been little affected by the Fukushima disaster. In the United States, Fukushima may have an impact on the relicensing of old plants and result in new safety requirements. But the principal barrier to a “nuclear renaissance” in this country remains the fact that nuclear is not cost competitive with other alternatives; indeed, its lack of competitiveness has been accentuated by the new prospect of cheap and abundant domestic natural gas, and by escalating nuclear capital costs. But nuclear will likely boom in China, India, Russia and perhaps other developing countries. It is China that will likely take the lead in new designs and in growing an export business of nuclear construction and operation. But without a safety law or a nuclear safety agency, with no history of independent regulatory entities, and with a record of problematic infrastructure construction, China will be challenged to move ahead at the pace currently envisioned without raising serious concern among its population and the nuclear community.

Related Themes:

What is Happening in Japan and What Does It Mean for the Future of Nuclear Energy?

Burton Richter, Director Emeritus, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Matthew Wald, Washington Bureau, The New York Times

Monday, April 11, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:30 PM | Hewlett Teaching Center, Auditorium 200 | Free and Open to All

Note different location, Hewlett 200


Burton Richter
Director Emeritus of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory


Matthew Wald

Washington Bureau
The New York Times


Nobel Laureate Burton Richter and New York Times journalist Matthew Wald will discuss what is happening in Japan and what it means for nuclear power.  Mr. Wald will describe the sequence of events that occurred at the Fukushima nuclear plants following the earthquake in Japan.  Dr. Richter will cover the technical issues of what happens in a nuclear reactor under these circumstances.  Dr. Richter will review the current use of nuclear power worldwide and the main issues that nuclear regulators must address when assessing risk in disaster scenarios.  Mr. Wald will describe the nuclear renaissance before and after Fukushima and report on what he has been hearing from legislators, regulators, industry experts, and the public. Mr. Wald and Dr. Richter will provide their perspectives on the future of nuclear power.


Related Themes:

Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford: The Grand Challenge

Lynn Orr, Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor in Petroleum Engineering, Energy Resources Engineering Department Director, Precourt Institute for Energy



Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

Franklin M. ("Lynn") Orr, Jr. became the director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford upon its establishment in 2009. He served as director of the Global Climate and Energy Project from 2002 to 2008. Orr was the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University from 1994 to 2002. He has been a member of the Stanford faculty since 1985 and holds the Keleen and Carlton Beal Chair of Petroleum Engineering in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering, and is a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. His research activities focus on how complex fluid mixtures flow in the porous rocks in the Earth's crust, the design of gas injection processes for enhanced oil recovery, and CO2 storage in subsurface formations. Orr is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He serves as vice chair of the board of directors of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and he chairs the Science Advisory Committee for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and was a foundation board member from 1999-2008.

Related Themes:

Nuclear Regulation In An Era of Growth And Change

Gregory B. Jaczko, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

Special Session
co-sponsored by Woods Institute for the Environment, Precourt Institute for Energy, and Global Climate and Energy Project

With 104 operating nuclear plants in the United States, and dozens more on the drawing boards, who is protecting the public and the environment? Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko will discuss the simultaneous challenges of overseeing the existing fleet of reactors, managing in parallel multiple reactor design certification requests and multiple plant construction license requests, and overseeing the safety of and licensing an expansion of the nuclear fuel industry to support new plants, not to mention the storage of spent fuel.

Flier of Chairman Gregory Jaczko's Talk

Related Themes:

Nuclear Power: How, Why, Barriers

Burton Richter, Director Emeritus, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

Prof. Burton Richter’s book, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors, is now available. It is written for the non-expert and goes over climate change (what we know, how we know it, uncertainties), energy options (supply, emissions, potential), and policy options (sensible, senseless, and self-serving). Nuclear energy is one of the options discussed and that will be the main focus of this seminar.

Nuclear energy as a source of electricity is growing worldwide. In Europe, even Germany is reconsidering its commitment to shut down its nuclear plants soon. Other countries like Italy, which abandoned its nuclear energy program after the Chernobyl accident, are returning to nuclear power as a way to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets. In Asia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea are undergoing a major nuclear energy expansion, some because of the need for more secure energy supplies, others for reasons similar to Europe’s. Opponents of nuclear energy cite four issues: cost, radiation and accident potential, waste disposal, and risk of more proliferation of weapons. All of these issues will be reviewed.

Please join us for a book signing and reception following the talk.

Related Themes:

Sustainable Energy Future: Scale, Tradeoffs, and Co-Benefits

Panel with Stanford Faculty: Sally Benson, Director, Global Climate and Energy Project; Pamela Matson, Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences; Lynn Orr, Director, Precourt Institute for Energy; Stephen Schneider, Melvin & Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies; Jim Sweeney, Director Precourt Energy Efficiency Center; Buzz Thompson, Co-Director Woods Institute for the Environment

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | 04:15 PM - 05:30 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

The Stanford panelists will discuss a number of important themes and issues about energy use, impacts, and opportunities as we begin the transition to a low emission energy future. Panelists will consider economic viability, political will, resource constraints, and environmental impacts of various energy technologies at scale. They will discuss tradeoffs and how decision makers may seek co-benefits and avoid unintended consequences when making choices.

* Energy Social following the talk (Note: we do not provide venue details for social on the web)

Related Themes:

Can Nuclear Energy be a Sustainable Contribution to Address the Climate Change Concerns? The French Experience

Jacques Bouchard, former head of the Nuclear Energy Division of Commissariat a L’Energie Atomique in France

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

February 25, 2009 - Jacques Bouchard, former head of the Nuclear Energy Division of Commissariat a L'Energie Atomique in France, gives a comprehensive overview of France's innovative development of nuclear energy technology. He emphasizes the concern about climate change and the need to implement a new energy system that emits lower greenhouse gases as reasons for the necessity of nuclear energy around the world. Bouchard presents the French Act on Waste Management as a model for nuclear development in other countries: the EDF Generation Fleet focuses on optimization which is dependent upon consumption and has very low carbon dioxide emissions. France has developed large nuclear power capacity, but needs to have better use of uranium resources. The nuclear industry is now ready to implement newer and safer reactors. Bouchard explains that within 15% of the cost of a nuclear plant is set aside so that decommission can be conducted safely. Although Bouchard promotes nuclear energy as a positive path for many countries, he suggests the precondition of political stability for countries interested in nuclear energy.
Related Themes:

Evaluation of Proposed Energy Solutions to Climate Change, Air Pollution, and Energy Security

Professor Mark Jacobson, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Stanford

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

October 1, 2008 - Mark Jacobson, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, discusses proposed energy solutions to climate change, air pollution and energy security. Jacobson warns that global warming will accelerate even as humans clean up air pollution, and that in order to stabilize, the alternative technologies that humans implement must result in an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide. Jacobson includes many factors in his analysis: time between planning for an energy source and the actual operation, climate impact, water use, cost, risk to human health and safety, and air pollution. He recommends wind, geothermal, and hydro as viable sources for powering vehicles. He discourages further development of nuclear, carbon capture and sequestration, cellulosic ethanol, and corn ethanol.

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