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Transatomic Tackles Spent Nuclear Fuel Waste with Green Energy

By Ray Rothrock

One of the public’s concerns for the expansion of nuclear energy as a clean, non-CO2 source of power is the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel waste.  This waste is highly radioactive and must be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years from the environment.  Trivially small by volume, nuclear waste from power plants is nonetheless a real concern for everyone.  And rightly so.  Enter new thinking by today’s grad students to tackle such a thorny issue that the U.S. Government has yet to solve.

Transatomic Power, a new company founded by MIT PhDs , Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, and Russ Wilcox is tackling the spent nuclear fuel issue head on!  Their reactor design, a molten salt liquid fuel design, is able to burn up existing spent nuclear fuel turning it into electricity.  But more importantly, it reduces the ultimate spent fuel radioactivity to a level requiring about 300 years isolation from hundreds of thousands of years isolation and the volume to 1/20 of what it was before it was turned into electricity.   And by the way, there is no proliferation risk introduced in the process, either.  The company is seed financed by me and others.

Recognized by Time, Forbes, MIT Tech Review, and many other national publications, Dr. Dewan and Mr. Massie were featured in a TEDx New England Nov. 1, 2011.  This short 19 minute video is worth watching if you want to witness what new, fresh thinking can do, and want to see what innovation is all about.

The company has produced a white paper describing their technology.  If you’ve been around a while, you’ll recognize that TAP is built on the shoulders of other giants, namely the work done at Oakridge National Laboratory in the 1960s with their graphic moderated molten salt reactors.  By the way, those reactors worked nicely back then.

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Up and to the Right – Thursday, Jan 30 at 8:30, The Pioneer Woodside

By Ray Rothrock

All,

Up and to the Right is playing Thursday, Jan 30, at the Pioneer in Woodside.  Music starts at 8:30.  I hope you all can come and enjoy some good ol’ rock and roll.

We’ll be celebrating Tim Molak’s birthday that evening, too.

http://www.facebook.com/upandtotheright

Check us out!

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TEDx – Woodside Priory School Dec. 7, 2013, 2 pm

By Ray Rothrock

tedx copy

 

I’m doing a TEDx at the Woodside Priory School.  My topic is, “The Energy Gap — Who are we kidding?”

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CNN Week of Nuclear Energy – Nov. 4 to Nov 7

By Ray Rothrock

Pandora’s Promise has been on the road around the world since its release at Sundance last January, 2013.  It’s been shown literally hundreds of times to colleges, high schools, NGOs, boards of directors, environmental groups and in commercial theatres to name only a few groups.

CNN is premiering the documentary this week, Thursday, Nov. 7 at 9 pm.  But leading up to this screening is a full week of discussion.  Here’s the run down as best I know.

Monday @ 8am Robert Stone, director or Pandora’s Promise, be on CNN New Day debating Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club

Monday @ 11am Stone will be on CNN International – Connect the World with Becky Anderson  

Monday, Nov. 4 CNN.com will post Stone’s OpEd, paired with an opposing OpEd by Ralph Cavanaugh of NRDC.

Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7pm.  Headline News with Erin Burnett will do a segment on nuclear waste.

Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 1pm on CNN.com Stone do a Facebook debate with an opponent of nuclear energy.  The original person backed out, so I don’t know exactly who will be on this segment.

Wednesday, Nov. 6 (time TBD)  Dr. James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and climate scientist will be interviewed on CNN about Pandora’s Promise and nuclear energy.

Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6:30.  New-age environmentalist Michael Shellenberger of the the Break Through Institute will debate Ralph Nader on Crossfire.  This should be a great debate of the new thinking versus the old thinking.

Thursday, Nov. 7.  The Situation Room is doing a segment with Gregory Jaczko – former head of NRC who recently stated that all US nuclear plants are unsafe and need to be shut down.  He stands alone in this opinion.  He does however support the idea of replacing them with newer, safer designs so this is an area of agreement.

Thursday, Nov. 7 at 9 pm.  Airing of Pandora’s Promise.

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CNN to broadcast Pandora’s Promise Nov. 7, 9 pm EST

By Ray Rothrock

This is directly from the CNN website.

PANDORA’S PROMISE, premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will receive its global television debut as a CNN Films broadcast on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 9:00pm to 11:00pm, with encores from 11:00pm to 1:00am and 2:00am to 4:00am.  All times Eastern.

The atomic bomb and accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima bring to mind apocalyptic disasters, but the science and experience since suggest that long-held fears about nuclear power may be wrong.  Academy Award®-nominated director Robert Stone examines how fears of “nukes” may have extended the era of fossil fuels, perilously accelerating the pace of climate change as the global demand for energy soars, particularly in the developing world.  Stone takes his camera inside the exclusion zone around Fukushima, and even ventures inside the notorious Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Stone tells the intensely personal stories of environmentalists and energy experts who have undergone profound conversions from being passionately against, to strongly favoring nuclear energy – putting their careers and reputations on the line in the process.  Through the voices of Stewart BrandGwyneth Cravens, Mark LynasRichard Rhodes, and Michael Shellenberger, Stone exposes this rift within the environmental movement as they describe their individual journeys of defection.  Also included are interviews with two pioneering engineers of next generation nuclear reactors.

“I made this film in order to illuminate what I see as the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to the ongoing debate about how to tackle climate change,” Robert Stone said.  “We have a moral imperative to lift billions of people out of poverty, while at the same time dramatically reducing CO2 emissions.  How to do that is the central issue of our time and that led me to take a second look at nuclear energy,” Stone said.

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What makes an effective VC?

By Ray Rothrock

Chris diGeorgio and I were invited speakers at a client meeting of GW & Wade Company last week.  Chris was my co-panelist and had recently completed a substantial report published by Accenture on the impact of venture on jobs.  My role was to discuss venture as I just completed being the chair of the National Venture Capital Association. Gene Sinclair of GW&W was our host.

In the Q&A a gentleman asked me, “What makes a good VC?”  Given the data that we just presented, this was a great question.  On the stump I answered it in my usual flowing way.  However, as I was driving home, my answer haunted me as incomplete and not specific enough.  This question is so important that I’ve thought about it more and decided I would jot down my more specific thoughts.  Here is a minimum list of qualities that I think make for a good and effective VC?

1. Personable.  Venture is a people business.  One has to be confident but not arrogant so as to attract similarly smart and capable people.  Deal flow is the elixir of venture and making deal flow happen is easier if you are personable.

2. IQ.  You need a good IQ to go toe to toe with the smartest entrepreneurs.  They are all very smart.  Further they know more about their business than you, but in all likelihood, you know more about building businesses than they do.  So there is a balance here.

3. Pattern Recognition.  The power of transferring learnings, good and bad, from other startup experiences to the current startup is crucial.  Learning over time to see the signals — ones that tell you about the CEO and the culture, or ones that tell you about confidence of the team, and ones that tell you about attention to detail — matter greatly.  Seeing patterns is not something most people have.  I think this is necessary to be a successful VC.

4. Persuasive.  As a VC on the board of a startup, there is only one actual action you can do – hire and fire the CEO.  Nothing else.  Everything other action you impart comes through your personal salesmanship and persuasiveness.  This requires clear thinking, logical thinking, and willing to listen so that a dialogue occurs and all points make it to the table so that good decisions are made.

5. Passion.  Doing a startup company is hard for the entrepreneur as well as the VC. It takes passion to get through the tough times, and startup companies have tough times.  Forgiveness for honest mistakes and letting others take credit are strong, mature features of a competent and supportive VC.  At the end of the day, you are building a company.  A passion for building, growing and desire to win are essential passions you must have to be a good VC.

6. Closure.  A great VC knows how to close and get stuff done.  Time is short in a start up and getting stuff done quickly really matters.  So making hard choices and taking action is required.  If you can’t get something done, you can’t build a company.  And therefore, you probably shouldn’t be a VC.

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Why did the Government shutdown happen?

By Ray Rothrock

Every American just lived through a silly spectacle conducted by government we elected – the budget and debt crisis.  I hope we are ashamed of ourselves, because somehow I don’t think the politicians are.  I hope we don’t forget this in the next congressional election.

I’m sure much will be written by people more informed and smarter than me who will analyze this event, why it happened, and what does this all mean now.  Well, I have two observations for what it is worth about why it happened and what does it mean.  The first about the why:

What does it mean?

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Prof. Frank in the New York Times Calls it Right!

By Ray Rothrock

ROCHESTER — IN 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent.

In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent.

The timeline of these polls defines my career in science. In 1982 I was an undergraduate physics major. In 1989 I was a graduate student. My dream was that, in a quarter-century, I would be a professor of astrophysics, introducing a new generation of students to the powerful yet delicate craft of scientific research.

Much of that dream has come true. Yet instead of sending my students into a world that celebrates the latest science has to offer, I am delivering them into a society ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science.

This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity. In that era of the mid-20th century, politicians were expected to support science financially but otherwise leave it alone. The disaster of Lysenkoism, in which Communist ideology distorted scientific truth and all but destroyed Russian biological science, was still a fresh memory.

The triumph of Western science led most of my professors to believe that progress was inevitable. While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.

The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state isrevising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.

Thus, even as our day-to-day experiences have become dependent on technological progress, many of our leaders have abandoned the postwar bargain in favor of what the scientist Michael Mann calls the “scientization of politics.”

What do I tell my students? From one end of their educational trajectory to the other, our society told these kids science was important. How confusing is it for them now, when scientists receive death threats for simply doing honest research on our planet’s climate history?

Americans always expected their children to face a brighter economic future, and we scientists expected our students to inherit a world where science was embraced by an ever-larger fraction of the population. This never implied turning science into a religion or demanding slavish acceptance of this year’s hot research trends. We face many daunting challenges as a society, and they won’t all be solved with more science and math education. But what has been lost is an understanding that science’s open-ended, evidence-based processes — rather than just its results — are essential to meeting those challenges.

My professors’ generation could respond to silliness like creationism with head-scratching bemusement. My students cannot afford that luxury. Instead they must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas.

During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today.

The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. And for every parent and grandparent there is the opportunity to make a few more trips to the science museum with your children.

Behind the giant particle accelerators and space observatories, science is a way of behaving in the world. It is, simply put, a tradition. And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.

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