Nuclear energy is increasingly seen as a solution to climate change, thanks to its carbon-free characteristics. But harnessing the atom more for peaceful purposes like electric power also requires assurances that it will be done safely and economically, and won’t fall into the hands of those who would use it as a weapon.
In this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless is joined by Dan Poneman, the author of a new book from The MIT Press called “Double Jeopardy: Combating Nuclear Terror and Climate Change.” Based on his decades of experience in nuclear issues, Dan writes that nuclear power is essential to decarbonizing the environment and can be relied upon more even as we reduce the risks of nuclear.
Their conversation is timely, happening as headlines over nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea compete for attention with those over climate change, and raise questions over whether those two characteristics of nuclear energy can really be reconciled today.
Dan and Bill talk about that as well as what Dan considers to be good policymaking in nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation, and what’s taking place along those lines in Washington today. And he tells us what advances in technology he thinks are needed to make nuclear energy an option again for new generating capacity in the U.S.
Dan is the president and CEO of Centrus Energy Corporation, a Maryland-based firm which sells enrichment, fuel and fuel services to utilities with nuclear reactors around the world. Previously, he was Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration and a member of the National Security Council staff responsible for nonproliferation and export controls during the Clinton administration.
On a lighter note, Dan and Bill also talk about his off-hours activities as a rock musician over the years, including a band named "Yellow Cake," a humorous reference to an ingredient in the nuclear fuel-making process. It gives us a look at another side of a man known primarily for his work on a rather sober topic.
Bill Loveless: Nuclear energy is increasingly seen as a solution to climate change. Thanks to its carbon free characteristics. But harnessing the atom more for peaceful purposes like electric power also requires assurances that it will be done safely and economically and won’t fall into the hands of those who would use it as a weapon. Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange. A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless. Our guest today is Dan Poneman, the author of a new book from the MIT press called “Double Jeopardy – Combating Nuclear Terror and Climate Change” based on his decades of experience in nuclear issues, Dan writes that nuclear power is essential to decarburizing the environment and can be relied upon more even as we reduce the risks of nuclear weapons. Our conversation is timely happening as headlines over nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea compete for attention with those over climate change and raise questions of whether those two characteristics of nuclear energy can really be reconcile today. Dan and I talk about that as well as what he considers to be good policymaking in nuclear energy and nuclear non-proliferation and what’s taking place along those lines in Washington today. And he tells us of what advances in technology he thinks are needed to make nuclear energy an option again for new generating capacity in the United States. Dan is the President and CEO of Centrus Energy Corporation, a Maryland based firm which sells enrichment fuel and fuel services to utilities with nuclear reactors around the world. Previously, he was deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration and a member of the National Security Council staff responsible for non-proliferation and export controls during the Clinton administration. By the way, I couldn’t leave a chat with Dan Poneman without asking about his off hours activities as a rock musician over the years including a band named Yellow Cake, a humorous reference to an ingredient in the nuclear fuel making process. Gives us a look at another side of a man known primarily for his work on a rather sober topic. I hope you enjoy the conversation. Dan Poneman welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.
Dan Poneman: Bill great to be with you.
Bill Loveless: Dan, let’s start with you. Talk a little bit about your long time interest in nuclear matters. It started with an internship in the United States senate some years ago when you were a student at Harvard. Tell us about that and where it’s led you?
Dan Poneman: Well, really Bill, it was all unexpected which I think is common for a lot of people in finding their career path. I always wanted to be an oceanographer when I was in high school years, I loved watching Sea Hunt, I liked scuba diving, I liked fish. But I got to college and I found all that science a little bit intimidating and I took a foreign policy course that really captured my interest and I at the same time, had the good fortune to get a summer internship for my home state senator John Glen, a great national hero. And when I was there, I was looking for a research project and they said what do you want to research and I say, anything. And they said, why don’t you look at the NPT and I said…
Bill Loveless: What is that?
Dan Poneman: I didn’t want to admit my ignorance. But I didn’t have any idea what it was and of course, this is decades before Google or any search engine. So, it took me basically the rest of the afternoon in the congressional research service and in the basement of the[00:03:51] center office to discover that stands for nuclear non-proliferation treaty that was 1975 and I’ve been actually working on these issues ever since.
Bill Loveless: Interesting. You really have you been through the, you worked in the Clinton administration on it, the Obama administration as we mentioned in the introduction, you were deputy secretary at the department of energy, chief operating officer dealing with those issues. But you’ve been added for a long time now. Your book, “Double Jeopardy” is about gets into this very issue. What it’s about, what you describe as a two existential threats facing humanity today, nuclear annihilation and catastrophic climate change. What did you set out to say in that book and why did you do so now?
Dan Poneman: It is so now Bill because I’ve always actually going back to my earliest academic interest have been fascinated by the inherent duality of atomic fission. This goes back to the very dawn of the nuclear era, is very well articulated in the December 8, 1953 address by Dwight Eisenhower. So the dilemma is how do you capture the potentially enormous peaceful benefits from energy and medical applications and so forth that you get from atomic fission and that technology without inadvertently unleashing the horrors of nuclear destruction because it’s the same technology, the same feasible processes of fission that can either heat water, create steam and drive turbine generators for lighting homes as you take that same technology and enrich that Uranium to a very degree of purity, you then set off a nuclear weapon with it. So, the question, presented is especially now as we’ve known for decades obviously going back to Hiroshima, going back to the Cuban missile crisis, the nuclear weapon challenge has been very well articulated and understood. But the potential role of nuclear in addressing in a very significant way. Climate change is something that is not as well as understood or accepted and so the question, I am facing in this book is can we in fact face effectively, these two existential threats. Catastrophic climate change on one hand, nuclear annihilation on the other and the only way I can see to do that is through a much improved enhanced U.S. nuclear policy that then propagate across the world.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. And you say in the book that we can enhance the ability of nuclear energy to address climate change even as you reduce the risk of nuclear terror but it will take well crafted laws and policies implemented with commitments to constant vigilance and safety. But as I look across the landscape now, in the U.S., I still see a lot of disagreements over climate change and even if you subscribe to the concern scientists have over how you should address it and as I look abroad, you know, I see the tensions in Iran, North Korea. So, to some may seem like this is a very tall order.
Dan Poneman: It is a tall order. But the great challenges of each generation, they must be met or they will overcome us and I find looking back in U.S. history when the country has been faced by this character of threat, it has risen to the challenge. Let me give you just one small statistic. In 1939, United States produced 3000 aircraft. By 1945, we have produced 300,000 and we have gotten the rate of 3000 a year up to about a 100,000 a year. So, facing the Nazi threat, we did that. Facing the post World War II threat of the potential world domination of Soviet communism, we came up with a martial plan and whole series of institutions, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and many others and we contained and ultimately prevailed in the Cold War. So, we can do big things if we are focused and we have two things. One, really strong focused strategic leadership and two, strong bipartisan support. When you think about those challenges, the challenges that we faced and faced successfully have ones that we have addressed together as a nation not as individual parties.
Bill Loveless: And you seemed even somewhat optimistic, if that’s the right word to use here in the book, in talking about where we are at on these two issues right now. You said that the moment maybe right to establish a new consensus on nuclear diplomacy and how to engage peaceful nuclear cooperation with other nations in a way that minimizes the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation and yet again, when we look out, when I look out right now and see the headlines in Iran at all, it seems hard to believe.
Dan Poneman: Well, let me break this into two pieces Bill. After I wrote that book, but before now, the United States Congress has passed two bills last year that support the advanced deployment of nuclear energy, improved licensing at the nuclear regulatory commission. Two bills signed into law. So, notwithstanding that this is a pretty deep partisan divide in American politics these days on this topic of nuclear energy, you are finding strong bipartisan consensus. Secondly on the really tough challenges out there in the global diplomatic arena. Look, I think optimism would be a very, I think strong word to use for how I feel in terms of the threats that we face on the diplomatic front, on the one hand. On the other hand, you do have a strong consensus that both the North Korea and Iran and nuclear threats must be contained. You do have a consensus, I think on the fact that you have to have some combination of on the one hand strong diplomatic and other forms of pressure to induce these folks to come to the negotiating table but then you have to have some place that they’ve got to go in terms of complying with the international requirements be it the ballistic missile side or on the nuclear weapons side and non-proliferation side. So, I think the optimism, I have is that if we act together and with that kind of focus that we can get there. I think the last thing, I would say on this bill is when it comes to nuclear energy per se, there are some people who maybe deep climate skeptics in terms of concerns about impending catastrophic climate change but who may think that American global nuclear leadership is important for national security reasons. And there maybe people on the other hand who really are deeply concerned about climate change and view nuclear as perhaps the only way to close the gap to get to two degree centigrade or better in terms of result that has been called for by Paris climate agreement for example. But who aren’t so focused on foreign policy and both of these groups of people may decide nuclear energy and U.S. leadership in nuclear energy is important. So, what I say in the book is people might agree on what to do, even though they don’t always agree on why.
Bill Loveless: Interesting. Well, I just want to get back to Iran for a minute.
Dan Poneman: Yeah.
Bill Loveless: Because you know as we sit here today, the headlines are about Iran accelerating its processing of Uranium as in the White House, the president has imposed sanctions against the supreme leader in Iran. Where do you see things headed there right now?
Dan Poneman: I think it’s, I think it’s quite unclear. I think that it is clear that the level of economic pain that, that regime is suffering is extreme. We saw after the 2011 sanctions were passed by the congress to really tighten down and curtail Iranian oil exports and, and they did a lot and that was in fact, I think, we brought them to the table last time around, the economic pain they are suffering now seems to me to be much greater. I think the oil curtailment has been much deeper than last time. And to me, the real question is if you can convert that pressure into an effective diplomatic effort to persuade them to A, continue the constraints that are imposed under the joint comprehensive plan of action which constraints, I think were actually quite important. But B, to the extent that there are places where people would like to go further and I still think that within the parameters of the many challenges that Iran poses, the nuclear ones are first and foremost. So, to the extend one could for example, extend the time frame of the constraints beyond those that have been initially negotiated in the joint comprehensive plan of action. That would be the trick of it and as anybody diplomatic, the devil is in the details. Somehow, I think we have to get past the stage of just posturing and really get down the brass tacks. A country like that, you know, a very large country with tremendous capabilities, they are not just going to roll over. Somehow, you’ve got to engage with them. The only other track, the only other option to deal with a nuclear threat there would potentially be kinetic or military options and those are inherently unattractive. So, I think it’s incumbent upon us as a nation to come up with this comprehensive strategy which twins the pressure being imposed to the economic sanctions with some kind of an exit strategy where if Iran complies with the requirements of the non-proliferation regime and so forth, that they can get some relief from that because that would give the inducement we need to get them back to the table, back into a meaningfully constraint nuclear program.
Bill Loveless: What do you make of the way that the Trump administration is handling it right now? It’s obviously trying to put tremendous pressure on to Iran and at times, it seems as though it’s on the verge of considering a military strike of some sort. What do you make of the way the White House is handling it?
Dan Poneman: Well, when I was in the White House, I always made it my business in answering questions not to put myself in the shoes of somebody who I wasn’t. So I really, I’m not there anymore, I don’t have access to the information that people in the White House have obviously. But I would say that I would say that the conditions precedent are set to enable a kind of negotiation that I’m talking about and I think I’ve always believed that you need in a case like either Iran or North Korea to keep the pressure on until you get the result you need. I think, a mistake that is often made is to anticipate consensus and then to take the heat off but once the heat is off, they are not gonna respond. So, I would say that the other thing, if I could mix and match the Iran case with the North Korean case for a moment, I do think for example that in a country like either Iran or North Korea, you really need engagement by and approval at the highest level. It’s got to be the supreme leader in the case of Iran. It’s got to be Kim Jong Un in the case of North Korea and in that respect, the willingness of the White House to engage in dialogue even with countries that have been historically hostile and so forth, I think they’re the ones who have got the weapons, we are trying to get rid of, while the capability in the Iran, in case, we are trying to get rid of so. The combination again that I see in having a very strong pressure on one side and an opening for high level diplomacy in the other, I think that’s potentially very effective strategy. Whether and how the administration will pursue that, I’d have to leave to them to answer.
Bill Loveless: You were complementary of the president, president Trump in terms of his meetings with Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Dan Poneman: The reason is in a country like that and I think a mistake Bill has often made even totalitarian societies, it’s not just one person. And so there are small influential _____ [00:16:37]. But at the end of the day, in a country like North Korea, the only vote that counts on whether or not they’re gonna give up their nuclear weapons capability is Kim Jong-un and when I was in the White House working for president Clinton and by the way in the beginning, I also worked on the North Korean issue for president George Walker Bush and I believe strongly bipartisanship on all these matters having to do with non-proliferation. But I felt that it was a fitting improper for president Clinton when I was in a position to have some voice in making recommendations to the leaders of our country to be open to meeting with, at that time, it was _____ [00:17:17] for the same reason. And there were people who said, oh, don’t do that because you are conferring legitimacy on them and I said we’re the United States. We can talk to whoever we want to talk if if suits our national security interests. And if this is the person who has his finger on the trigger, figuratively speaking or who has access to the weapons or the weapons capability, that’s the guy, you got to deal. So, whether it’s president Clinton in his day or president Trump. Now, in terms of an effort to open a channel at the highest level, I have no problem. And I think frankly to be candid, in some of the intervening years, there has been such an obsession with six party talks and what we used to talk about in 1968, the shape of the table kind of discussion. Then we completely lost our way diplomatically and while we were so busy deciding that we were not gonna buy the same horse twice and using _____ [00:18:18] instead of policy, the guy is building more nuclear weapons and testing them. So, rather than just watch this thing happen in abject horror, why not grab the mettle and try to do something about it and one way to do that is to shake up the bag and have outreach at the highest level.
Bill Loveless: So, despite these what seem to be frightening episodes that are happening in the world today, you from your long perspective in looking at these issues are saying, there is still is the potential to sort of marry these two considerations, these two issues, nuclear power and atomic for peace sort of way that Eisenhower talked about in 1953 and nuclear non-proliferation. We can sort of get out of these messes and get to the point where nuclear power becomes a strong civilian option to address. In this case climate change.
Dan Poneman: I would say yes if there is a lot of ifs that go with that. I don’t want to seem like a cockeyed optimist. I think that is possible but it’s going to require tremendous vigilance. There are first of all for nuclear just start with the nuclear power side. For nuclear power to become more of a factor and when I say more of a factor, the international energy agency for example has projected you need at least to double the amount of nuclear power in the world to even have a _____ [00:19:47] of keeping climate, temperature change to two degrees centigrade or less which is in my judgment too high. But first of all, you got to drive cost way down. Secondly, you have to address the chronic concerns that people have about radiation, safety, waste management and so forth. And a third, you are going to need in connection with that second point, a new generation of technologies, passive safe feature, these so called fourth generation nuclear power plants which are smaller, which have very robust thermal characteristics. So, meltdown is less of a concern and so on and so on. And the other thing Bill and I think we are going to need is continued U.S. leadership because nuclear power, it’s not a choice, it’s a fact. There is 440 or so nuclear power reactors operating around the world. I think, one thing anyone and everyone will agree is to the extent that nuclear power exists at all. It has to be safe and it has to be pursued in a way that does not inadvertently lead to the diversion of dangerous technology or dangerous materials to people who would do us harm. And no disrespect to any other nation. I’m proud of the record of the United States when it comes to adherence to the highest standards of safety and the highest standards of nuclear non-proliferation and safeguards. So, if the United States were to fall out of that world and to retreat and we’re at risk of doing so. Then I would fear that we could not pursue nuclear power safely and securely to the degree that you could get these dual benefits that I’m seeking and that’s why in the book, I’m really advocating not just for nuclear power per se but for a restoration of the U.S. leadership in nuclear energy.
Bill Loveless: Right, right. And you write in the book that the U.S. is no longer the dominant nuclear player in the world. You say, in fact, it’s hanging its leadership in this field is, it’s hanging by a thread.
Dan Poneman: It’s a sad thing. You know, there is this line in Shakespeare in _____ [00:22:21] when he said, “They told me I was everything but I’m not _____ [00:22:25] proof.” _____ [00:22:26] I find out is some kind of floor or something. And a lot of people I’m afraid don’t understand this yet because they still think of us from the good old days and even going back to the 1970s when we were unchallenged in our global leadership, the United States sometimes took actions that undermined other’s confidence in us and people respond to these things in a rational manner and the rational manner is not to rely so much on an entity that might not seem reliable to you. And so, just to take one area which I followed since 1975, my first assignment, among my first assignment for senator Glen to work on something called the nuclear fuel assurance act of 1976 and as chance would have, I’m now leading a company which is still in this business of Uranium enrichment which is the technology that we use to take the natural Uranium and elevate the isotope U-235 to a concentration that can then sustain chain reaction for nuclear fission and produce heat and water and so forth. But when I started for John Glen, the United States basically dominated the whole world in Uranium enrichment when I was working for president George Walker Bush, the United States had 40% of world production of Uranium enrichment. When I began working for President Obama in 2009, we had 25%. And within 6 months, the United States went from 25% to 4% of the world’s Uranium enrichment sales and we had zero production. And in the vacuum that we created Russia has become the dominant player and the Europeans are second and the Chinese had been coming on strong. Now, we are starting to turn that around and we are gonna actually be building a few centrifuges in Ohio, a very advanced design and so forth. But the nuclear fuel cycle is the most important from a non-proliferation standpoint and if we abandon the field utterly, we are gonna lose all the influence that brings to us and I think that’s, that’s a sad thing. So, yeah, we are hanging by a thread and it’s going to take conscious concerted sustained policies to get us back to where we should be.
Bill Loveless: Back in 2017, the fact that about two years ago this time, president Trump launched an initiative to revive and expand the nuclear energy sector. Has his administration done much to follow upon that initiative?
Dan Poneman: There has been a lot of work and as I indicated a little earlier, the president has signed these two bills that have been passed. I think that the leadership in my old department which I probably served the U.S. Department of Energy has been consistently very strong, strongly supportive. Secretary Perry, deputy secretary _____ [00:25:37], undersecretary _____ [00:25:39], undersecretary _____ [00:25:40], undersecretary _____ [00:25:41], just they are all very professional and dedicated public servants and in my small side of this world of Uranium enrichment, I can say we’re delighted that with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy we are gonna be over the next three years building machines again getting back in the Uranium enrichment game. They’ve been focused and one of the important goal Bill as you know is to sustain the existing fleet. I know you’ve had my good friend Tom Fanning on the show and they extended the Vogel loan guarantees to help make sure that project got completed and they got a quorum restored to the Exim bank which is important to why U.S. to compete in national. So, yeah, they’ve been doing a lot. They have been very supportive of these efforts.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. We’re not gonna see these large nuclear plants like the[00:26:33] plants in Georgia built again on the United States, it seems. Right, we are gonna see, if anything something more along the lines of the small modular reactor.
Dan Poneman: I believe that’s right. I believe that in the United States of America, the era of what we call large stick built bespoke gen three reactors, third generations, I think vogal will be the last set and I think it’s an exciting thing but it’s a challenging thing, the next move is gonna be to smaller reactors and of course, there is different flavors of that because the closest to regulatory approval for example is the new scale project which is a light water reactor based technology which is very similar to large reactors but it’s just so much smaller. But then there is very exciting technologies coming down the road that different moderators and coolants that have many of these other characteristics. For example, a lot of the advanced generation, fourth generation designs will use higher assay of enriched Uranium, get higher fuel densities and there is one version of fuel power for example called the Triso particle where you have a series of ceramic layers and each little pellet becomes its own containment. So, you have a really exciting technology which promise better thermal characteristics, higher power density and more walk away safe features. I do think Bill that it’s in those advanced generations be it the small, modular reactors that are based on light water technology or these even more advanced technologies that are gonna be the path of the future. One last thing I’ll say about this is, some of these designs actually have the ability to use as fuel the used fuel that is generated out of these conventional large light water reactors. So, you have company of like TerraPower. That Bill Gates leads out in Seattle, Washington and their design will actually use used fuel as fuel for their reactors. So, you’re killing two birds with one stone. Not only are you creating carbon fuel electricity but at the same time, you can be actually reducing the overall requirement of storing long term geologic disposal for these otherwise waste because you are using them as fuel.
Bill Loveless: Right. You know, you mentioned before that there has been signs in Washington, in congress of creates interest in nuclear energy and I would certainly agree. We’ve seen bills introduced by the likes of Shelton Whitehouse, democrat from Rhode Island, a fierce advocate of the action on climate change and Jim Inhofe a republican from Oklahoma who disputes the very science behind climate change. So, I think, you know, I would agree that there seems to be more of a discussion on this and even some agreements and some progress being made at that. And yet, and maybe it’s because I’m a creature of Washington here. You know, you see the detractors too, I mean, recently, there was an Op Ed by Greg Jaczko the former chairman of the nuclear regulatory commission during the Obama administration who they said headline was, I oversaw the U.S. nuclear power industry. Now, I think it should be banned, he said after Fukushima, the danger from climate change no longer outweighs the risks of nuclear accidents and he calls nuclear hazardous, expensive and reliable. What do you make of comments some of like that?
Dan Poneman: Well, I actually during the Fukushima response, we worked a lot together. I haven’t, I saw the articled obviously. I have not spoken and I don’t know all of his rational. With all due respect, I have a different view. Fukushima was a terrible, terrible tragedy. 18,000 people died but those 18,000 people died from Tsunami. I believe they’ve just recorded the first radiation death linked to the Fukushima accident as in three mile island, there were no radiation fatalities either. So, to me, life is full of comparative. You know the thousands of people die every year because of coal pollution etc., etc. and I invite you to some horror to just look at time lapse photography of what’s happening to our coral reefs and the massive bleaching episode that wiped out a swath of coral reef along the great barrier reef equivalent to the distance from Washington DC to Maine in 2016. The IPCC the intergovernmental panel on climate change did a study last year, which I’m sure, you saw which says even at two degrees, you’re gonna lose 99% of the world’s coral reefs by 2050. 1.5 you might save 20%. If we lose nuclear game set match, you can take all of the wind and solar and carbon and reforestation and energy efficiency and assume a 100% execution of every goal and you are going to fall way short and to me that is an existential threat and I don’t know how to solve that problem without that kind of expansion of nuclear. Now, I certainly would agree that as I say in the book, you have to be extremely vigilant. You need a culture of safety etc. but I think that in terms of the overall safety record that nuclear has amassed over the many decades, I think it’s a very strong one and I think that you have a far greater threat of inaction and allowing these things to go out of business and I’m sure you’ve seen the recent international energy agency report that says by 2040, we could have lost 60% of our nuclear capacity and meanwhile these coal fire plants are young and they are gonna be spewing out carbon for decades. So, we really, really, I think need that nuclear to stem the tide.
Bill Loveless: You know, and to stem the tide, you’ll need as you write a new generation of talented people working in the nuclear industry. You say in the book that they need to see themselves going into a field that is valued by their fellow citizens and it will make life better for their children. They want to know the nuclear power has an exciting future. I mean, what’s going on in terms of recruitment in this industry? Is it getting the best and the brightest or enough of them?
Dan Poneman: Well, I think, we need more. At the annual meeting of the nuclear energy assembly which is a industry wide meeting. They have a whole first day dedicated to the new generation and Bill, it’s true inspirational. There are young smart, dedicated folks, people who believe exactly what I believe which is that nuclear is gonna be essential to saving the planet. And that seems inspirational. Can we do better? Yeah, I think we can do better and I think we should do better. But it does begin, I think with the point that you mentioned in asking the question of these are smart young people. Very capable. They are gonna have a lot of career choices. So, it’s not just a matter of salary for these people. It’s a matter of doing something that they think is worthy of their effort and worthy of their commitment. And I think that nuclear is giving them that and to bring back the other side of the equation which is always the national security side. It’s very important to the extent the United States is going to continue to require a nuclear deterrent which has kept America safe and our ally safe and by the way the fact that the U.S. nuclear umbrella protects our treaty allies in NATO and in Asia has helped keep those countries from developing their own nuclear weapons. You need to get people into the nuclear navy who are gonna be driving those ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers and you need an ecosystem that can sustain it. Now a lot of these kids, they are not gonna end up to be four star admirals. They are gonna want to do their five years or whatever and then punch out. So, you need to have robust commercial nuclear industry not only to keep our commercial reactors operating safely but also to sustain the supply chain and the talent pool to support our uniform military and the missions that they have to protect the country through nuclear deterrents.
Bill Loveless: Is that a hard sell in term of recruiting people?
Dan Poneman: I believe.
Bill Loveless: Young people thinking about what they are gonna major in, in college and that sort of thing.
Dan Poneman: It’s a sell. And I wish, I was young enough to tie up, you know, my own view. I think that it’s a harder sell if the U.S. nuclear industry collectively doesn’t turn around because just to put it crudely, if somebody is gonna anticipate being in the Navy for four, five, six years, they want to know, if there is gonna be a job at the other end of that other than like hanging drapery or linoleum floors, right. And so, it’s really a wonderful thing Bill. If you go to nuclear power plants, you see so many veterans from the nuclear navy and I’m not talking about _____ [00:36:05]. I’m talking about enlisted and so forth and I do think that for my hunch is that to be most effective at recruiting the kind of talent that you’re gonna want to keep and sustain into that career path within the Navy, to have a very attractive and valued nuclear commercial sector at the other end of their military careers would be a pretty powerful tool.
Bill Loveless: Dan, it’s a fascinating book. It’s a good book and I think it really attacks these two very difficult issues. It often seem in conflict are in fact in conflict but it need to be resolved in some way. Thank you for taking the time with us. Before we go though, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask how your music career is going. You’ve been in, you’re a rocker, guitarist, harmonica player. You’ve been in several bands, yellow cake being one that I recall. How is that gig going?
Dan Poneman: Well, it’s always fun to have something to do to take the pressure off of all these other important work we’re doing. And so, I’ve been since the Ed Sullivan show of February 1964, big Beatles fan and I’ve had a lot of playing yellow cake, the band that you mentioned. Played only at the U.S. department of energy and for those of you listeners who don’t know, yellow cake is the lay term for U308, you know, the Uranium that gets mined out of the ground, it’s sort of an inside joke. And that small band was _____ [00:37:34] and I had the benefit of having my son William as a drummer and we only played the U.S. department of energy to raise funds for the Feds feed family program for these hungry, disadvantaged kids to make sure they got the calories and the protein and so forth and to keep them and their brains growing and stuff like that. So, it’s been a lot of fun. We actually, one of my other bands pink noise is going to be doing a retirement benefit for one of our colleagues. There will be a lot of nuclear folks around this weekend. So, it’s fun and a great relief and you know, it gives me something to do in the basement when I’m trying to cool down at the end of the day.
Bill Loveless: I recall too, you jammed at one point with _____ [00:38:13] Freeman who is formerly at DOE with you at DOE and now at the Center on Global Energy Policy as a scholar.
Dan Poneman: _____ [00:38:20] is a prodigiously talented musician. It’s funny because I knew he was to use your phrase wicked smart and any time, I had a question about carbon capture and sequestration, _____ [00:38:30] was the go to guy. But I did not have any idea that he’s both talented as a keyboardist and I don’t know, if he did this when you saw him playing in April, he’s a great singer as well. So, maybe we’ll jam together again sometime next year maybe even at Columbia.
Bill Loveless: We would look forward to that. Dan Poneman, thank you for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.
Dan Poneman: Thank you Bill.
Bill Loveless: Well, that’s our conversation with Dan Poneman and his new book “Double Jeopardy – Combating Nuclear Terror and Climate Change” I hope you enjoyed it. For more on Columbia Energy Exchange and on the Center on Global Energy Policy, go to our website Energypolicy.columbia.edu or find us on social media at Columbiauenergy. For Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless, we’ll see you again next week with another conversation.