Category Archives: events

Bye, Bye, Nuclear Power

Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear reactor in Japan that is keeping us all on the edge of our seat right now and holding our breath. This morning it became clear that reactor 1 and 3 in this second generation nuclear power plant are probably OK, but reactor 2 is likely melting down because of a stuck valve. The broken valve makes it impossible right now to pour cooling water into the reactor and the rods are out of control. The rods are still inside a containment vessel, but it is not clear how much heat and pressure this can hold. Well, we’ll find out but it’s not the best way to conduct a pressure test.

The damaged Fukujima Daicchi nuclear plant. Photo from

Fears of nuclear energy are growing. Even though the troubled reactor is not a third generation reactor, which are considered to be much safer, it is unlikely that this nuclear crisis in Japan will be ignored in future nuclear energy debates. My guess is that it will lead to an immediate hold on nuclear power in the US, and possibly also in Europe. Germany already reacted today by deciding to hold off on life extension of several of its nuclear power plants. Germany has been debating this for a long time, and is not as pro-nuclear as other European countries such as France and Sweden, but still it is a significant political step.

What will this mean for US energy politics? The combination of increased fear of nuclear power and rising oil prices is already leading to a renewed “Drill, Baby, Drill” call, not even a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. You’d think that after oil spills, meltdowns of Chernobyl in the 80s and likely Japan now, and coal mining accidents, we’d hear the urgent and very loud calls “Save, Baby, Save” for efficiency, “Blow, Baby, Blow” for wind and “Shine, Baby, Shine” for solar. But, I don’t think that these calls will be any louder here than the Drill call.

So, I’m holding my breath for several reasons this morning, anxiously checking the computer for the latest news out of Japan, and anxiously awaiting the response of congress and the administration. Days like these, it’s hard to be the optimist I usually try to be: it is hard to smile when you cannot breathe. I am sure I’m not alone. Surely, Burton Richter will feel pretty down as well right now. We interviewed him just last week about the future of nuclear energy. I think he can say bye, bye to nuclear power. Check out our interview with him in the next post.

Learn from (virtual) DoE experts

This is nice: the Department of Energy (DOE) will host a monthly series of live video presentations highlighting DOE programs  and offering online interactions with leading DOE experts.

The first event in this series is scheduled for this coming Wednesday (March 16th) and will feature Patrick Davis, DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program Manager. Patrick will discuss the Administration’s goal of deploying 1 million electric vehicles by 2015.  Future broadcasts will focus on energy efficiency, green cities, renewable energy, smart grid, and transportation, amongst others.

Attending such a virtual forum fits nicely into our “Save, baby, Save” campaign to reduce our carbon footprint. And, you can make yourself a nice cuppa tea and watch the video in the comfort of your own room.

Complimentary registration is available on the Virtual Energy Forum website.



Around the world in 80 days… in an electric car

I have a confession to make: the car that I drive is not electric. It’s a practical, nice looking Toyota Matrix. Not entirely unexpected for a person who teaches matrix computations at university regularly, of course, but I do feel pangs of guilt occasionally when driving around town. Honest, my next car will be electric. Especially after hearing, whilst driving that same Matrix,  a wonderful NPR “The World” segment last week on the recently completed Zero Emissions Race.

The three finalist of the Zero Race, from

Imagine driving 27,000 kilometers through 17 countries in 80 days in an electric vehicle. Three teams from Australia, Germany and Switzerland managed. The Australian team drove a three-wheeler that was dubbed “TREV”, the Germans an electric scooter and the Swiss a sort of high-tech motorcycle.

The race was organized by Louis Palmer, who some of you may remember as the “Solar Taxi Guy”, who toured around the world in a solar car three years ago.

The participants stopped off at the World Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico last December. They drove through Europe, Russia, China, Canada and the United States, and finished with a track through Morocco and Spain.

I loved this “race”. It was not without its share of problems. It was difficult at times for the teams to charge their vehicles, particularly in Russia and China, where sometimes they had to wire directly into the power supply. And naturally, the race was not entirely emissions free. In places, electricity used for the vehicle was generated by fossil-fueled power plants.  But overall, it was a challenging, exciting adventure that managed to put a bright positive light on electric cars. I also loved that the Trev was designed by students at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.

For all of you interested in participating in such a race, there is another chance: The Zero Emissions Race Europe from September 3rd to the 25th. Let me know if you put a team together. I’d be happy to be the supply van. Me and my Matrix, but guilt free as we’d be helping to advance this future mode of transport.

Leadership Lessons from Inside the Oil Spill

Dr. Marcia McNutt explains how decisions were made for the 2010 Gulf oil spill response. McNutt is the director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and a science adviser to the United States Secretary of the Interior. She recently headed the Flow Rate Technical Group in May 2010, which attempted to measure the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Recorded as part of the Conradin von Gugelberg Memorial Lecture Series. Past lectures at…

Recorded Live on Feb. 3, 2011

Avoiding the Slippery Slope: Leadership Lessons from Inside the Oil Spill

Dr. Marcia McNutt

Dr. Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey and science adviser to the US Secretary of the Interior, will speak about the lessons learned from the BP oil spill. The lecture will be Thursday, Feb. 3 on the Stanford campus.

It should be an interesting talk!

Follow this link to register for free: Avoiding the Slippery Slope: Leadership Lessons from Inside the Oil Spill : Center for Social Innovation (CSI).

If you can’t make it to campus, you can watch a live broadcast of the lecture on the Stanford Graduate School of Business YouTube channel.