Speakers at the most recent event included Mark Peters, deputy laboratory director for programs, Argonne; Leah Guzowski, energy policy scientist, decision and information sciences, Argonne; Hussein Khalil, director, nuclear engineering division, Argonne; Peter Littlewood, professor of physics, UChicago, and associate laboratory director, physical sciences and engineering, Argonne; and Robert Rosner, the William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics, and co-director of UChicago’s Energy Policy Institute.
If this panel had gathered 15 years ago, it might have been titled “The Renaissance of Nuclear Energy;” 10 years ago, “The Future of Hydrogen;” five years ago, “The Promise of Renewables.” Instead, the panelists, who convened late last year, found themselves talking about “The Methane Economy“ and marveling at the new era of cheap natural gas—a “huge surprise,” said Peter Littlewood, an associate laboratory director at Argonne and professor of physics at the University.
Most of the panelists projected that nuclear energy will be a major player long-term, even though for the past few decades it has not been a focus of the United States.
“As the only proven, expandable, steady and essentially non-emitting energy source, nuclear energy has enormous potential,” Khalil said. “It has lost a lot of steam lately, but this is a temporary setback due to our national failure to implement solutions for managing used nuclear fuel.”
The future of solar and wind power generation is unclear as well, said Guzowski. “Renewables will grow but will not become a major player or take on a significant base load.” This is because renewable energy has not been able to overcome its biggest technological hurdle, the energy storage problem, she said. “People always ask, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?”