steve chu as SOE

December 10, 2008 at 7:03 pm | | news, science and the public

So it looks like Obama has snagged Steve Chu for Secretary of Energy.

Officials familiar with the selections say Mr. Chu is likely to focus his attention on the Energy Department’s core missions: basic science, nuclear weapons and cleaning up a nuclear-weapons manufacturing complex contaminated since the Cold War.

Sounds good. Steve is a big name in my field, so I know his work well. In fact, I even worked in his lab for a summer REU. He’s a nice guy and a good scientist. I haven’t been following his policy work very closely, but I suspect that he’s got some good ideas. Regardless, I really like the idea of a real, live scientist as SOE!

UPDATE: Here’s a NYT summary of Steve. Also, here’s an interview he gave about his thoughts on policy at Berkeley.


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  1. Hard to tell if he will focus on rebuilding the nuclear weapons complex, come out for nuclear power, or marshal the math and science skills of the DOE labs to model the path analysis to a real energy/green technology/efficiency infrastructure transformation.

    Comment by DrDan2000 — December 10, 2008 #

  2. so it looks like Obama picked a chu… pick…a…chu..

    GET IT? =D =D =D

    Comment by excimer — December 10, 2008 #

  3. All this talk of nukes makes me nervous.

    Comment by jordan — December 11, 2008 #

  4. nukes are part of the SOE’s job.

    Comment by sam — December 11, 2008 #

  5. Nuke waste clean-up is the SOE’s job. Making nukes an energy source is the SOE’s job. Nuke weapon design, testing, and proliferation is *not* or at least shouldn’t be the SOE’s job because: (a) it should be the Secretary of Defense’s job — after all weapons don’t make my light bulbs turn on or my cars go), and (b) nuke proliferation is a scary bad idea!

    I would’ve been more comfortable were Chu to focus on, say, diversifying our energy sources, making them less pollutive and more efficient, and working with the Department of the Interior to develop energy solutions that promotes sustainable domestic jobs.

    And judging from his biography, this is what I think he’ll *actually* do. His work at Berkeley labs indicates that he is keen on exploiting new energy technologies, is well aware of energy challenged wrapped up with climate change, and embraces “green” technologies.

    I don’t see anything saying that he is nuke crazy. I’ll chalk that up to a predominantly political maneuver or an obnoxious media spin.

    Comment by jordan — December 11, 2008 #


    Comment by sam — December 11, 2008 #

  7. also, one criticism of Chu is that he doesn’t have enough nuke weapon background. his focus is for sure alternative energy policy. Steve is not nuke crazy: e.g. he’s criticized yucca mountain (in its current form) in the past for not being adequately safe.

    Comment by sam — December 11, 2008 #

  8. The history of US regulation of nuclear weapons is complicated. Nuclear weapons issues didn’t fall under the Department of Energy’s control until the Department’s inception in 1975, which consolidated a number of energy and nuclear regulatory bodies. I think this consolidation was a mistake to the extent it undermined some of the political independence of nuclear regulatory bodies and mixed divergent federal goals/activities.

    Nevertheless, Chapter 42 of the United States Code, under Section 7112, codified the purpose of the Department of Energy. See—-000-.html.

    The Department’s purpose, as pertaining to nuclear weapons, includes: (1) generating policy relating to nuclear nonproliferation (subpara 10), (2) advising the president on international negotiations of nuclear weapons issues (subpara 10), and (3) to oversee the nuclear weapons and national security functions of the Energy Research and Development Administration (subpara 18).

    The first two functions are all about keeping nukes few and safe. But that third function served to avoid conflict between energy and weapons technology; it especially greased the wheels for nuclear proliferation under President Ford during the Cold War; and created a new Department — in addition to the Department of Defense — to which additional federal money could be quietly diverted for purposes of further building up an arsenal.

    I maintain that this third function was a mistake, and the SOE should not be dabbling in nuke proliferation. It directly conflicts with the SOE’s job of promoting nuke NONproliferation. But since it falls within the SOE’s purview, the best we can hope for is that the SOE marginalizes the nuke proliferation mission. After all, the Cold War is over. And I think Chu will be wise to the better rule of his prospective Office.

    Comment by jordan — December 12, 2008 #

  9. There is a marvelous new book The Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy by Gwyneth Cravens a novelist who had a long history as an active opponent to Nuclear Power until she met Rip Anderson a scientist and an expert in risk analysis and nuclear power. His patient step-by-step explanation of the truth about nuclear power overcoming every objection became the basis for the book. It is a must read. For example you will learn that Coal fired power plants release significant amounts of radioactivity to the environment while nuclear plants do not. The problem of effective waste disposal has been solved. There is a functioning nuclear waste disposal facility in New Mexico. Electric cars coupled with nuclear energy and other renewables could provide the path to saving our economy, environment and greatly reduce the political instability and vulnerability resulting on our dependence on foreign energy sources from fossil fuels.

    Comment by John Shelley — December 19, 2008 #

  10. who is Rip Anderson?

    Comment by sam — December 19, 2008 #

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