Time for new agency, fresh start on energy

President Barack Obama has emphasized change. For energy policy, change must be based on good science, ethics and management principles. Lessons learned from successes and failures in the United States and other nations support need for the following:

1. A permanent U.S. energy and nuclear technology board consisting of people who understand energy, nuclear and chemical/nuclear science and technology, and good management practice and ethics. This board would direct and provide oversight for national energy and nuclear programs and policies, avoid the adverse consequences of government management and ensure that Americans are fully informed about energy and nuclear technology.

2. A national commitment to full and efficient use of nuclear materials and technology for power, our safest, least polluting and potentially most abundant source of energy.

3. A corporation to produce nuclear materials for important national needs, manage used fuel from nuclear power plants, dispose of nuclear waste and develop advanced nuclear fuel recycle technology.

4. Increased use of high-speed rail for inter- and intra-city travel, powered by nonpolluting electricity produced in emission-free nuclear power plants.

5. Research and development for production of synthetic oil and natural gas from coal.

6. Higher taxes on gas to discourage wasteful use.

Other nations — Britain, Canada, France, Japan and now Russia — formed corporations to manage complex nuclear technology.

The U.S. Department of Energy has dismissed corporations that managed successful programs and relies on its national laboratories with a structure virtually identical to that of the centrally managed economy of the former Soviet Union.

The United States is the only nation that relies on a large federal department to direct and manage energy and nuclear policies. The Department of Energy was formed in 1977 to direct national nuclear programs and help resolve energy challenges resulting from America's inability, in 1970, to recover enough oil to meet demands. Instead, it has spent about $1 trillion, done virtually nothing to resolve energy challenges and lost the ability to produce nuclear materials needed for medicine, space exploration, defense and other programs.

The DOE ignored science when it assigned highest priority to low-temperature, low-energy density "renewable" energy.

An important law of thermodynamics is that the efficiency of a usable energy generator is approximately equal to the difference in temperatures of the energy source and ambient temperature at the place of use.

The temperature of solar and geothermal energy is near ambient temperature at the Earth's surface, the point of use.

Low-temperature, low-density energy sources such as solar, geothermal, wind and tidal will always be inefficient, expensive, limited and unreliable for generation of electricity. Batteries and smart grids and meters for increased reliability add to the cost.

The DOE also ignored the fact that existing nuclear power plants provide 80 percent of America's pollution-free and carbon-free generation of electricity, and that the safety of these plants has been increased greatly since the accident at Three Mile Island. Instead, the DOE helped maintain the 35-year moratorium on new nuclear plants by failing to provide information to Americans about the benefits and improved safety of existing nuclear power plants, and by failing to properly manage used nuclear fuel and dispose of nuclear waste. The decisions in 1976 and 1977 to indefinitely defer proper management of used nuclear fuel were political, made with no awareness of the program that would have resolved problems nor input from those with experience in used fuel management.

President Obama and Congress should restore America's role as a leader in energy and nuclear science and avoid devastation to our children and grandchildren that will result from energy shortages.

Clinton Bastin of Avondale Estates is a retired nuclear scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy.