Sandia LabNews

Sandia, Kurchatov Institute on nuclear energy

Sandia, Kurchatov Institute to prepare joint paper on global future of nuclear energy

Scientists at Sandia and at the Kurchatov Institute, in Moscow, have launched an effort to prepare a joint paper on the global future of nuclear energy as a point of departure for policy makers in Russia and the United States.

Discussing a variety of nuclear power issues on a video link in mid-February, a group of Sandia executives, including Labs President C. Paul Robinson, fashioned the agreement with their Kurchatov Institute counterparts. Joining Sandia executives in Albuquerque for the occasion was Kurchatov Institute President Evgeny P. Velikhov.

"We have survived 10 years of dark times and it is now appropriate that we have a revival that addresses energy, economy, ecology connected with straight thinking in the US and Russia about counterproliferation and nonproliferation," Velikhov said. He said Sandia and the world-class Kurchatov Institute are well matched, because both have worked historically to move from scientific discovery to solutions useful to society.

The two institutions agreed to develop an "executive summary" as a first step, including proposals for development of nuclear power based on points of agreement. A more detailed effort — making use of the strengths of the two research facilities — would follow.

"I think it’s important that we look more holistically at the problem of power generation," Paul told his Russian counterparts during the link-up. "Working together, can lead to a solution."

Bob Eagan, Sandia VP for Energy and Critical Infrastructure, believes there are a number of areas where cooperation with the Kurchatov Institute can be beneficial. These include economic modeling and inertial confinement fusion research, he said. "We see a lot of similarities between the vision of a global nuclear future that [Senior VPs] Roger Hagengruber and Tom Hunter and I have developed and where Dr. Velikhov wants to go," Bob said.

Velikhov, who has advised Mikhail Gorbachev and now President Vladimir Putin, spent two days at Sandia, where he was briefed on a variety of technologies relevant to the future of nuclear energy. On his second day, he spoke for about an hour with a group of high-ranking Sandia executives on issues of nuclear power and the future. The video-link discussion followed his talk.

In Russia, demand for electricity is expanding, while the country’s fossil fuel infrastructure is aging and in disrepair. A natural gas infrastructure is nearly nonexistent, forcing energy experts there to look toward the possibility of a "California-type, energy crisis." Elsewhere, the developing world is also beginning to demand more and more power. In addition to global warming, health issues are more directly linked to power development. "In China, cancer from micro particles of coal is a major problem," Velikhov noted.

"Nuclear power is important for these situations. I think this is an opportune time for us to work in parallel to understand the energy field. We have good agreement in our economic models, although there are some differences." Russia would like to make use of its materials, manpower, and experience to become a leader in developing global nuclear power. Velikhov said his government is taking important steps that will aid joint-nation collaboration. These include:

  • A new national policy on secure, environmentally sound energy.
  • Action by the Russia legislature to change laws on import of nuclear fuel important for non-proliferation efforts.
  • Joining of the antiterror coalition with the US following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Velikhov also spoke at length about developments in fusion energy research, his own field. He called for the US to rejoin the international consortium for plasma fusion research, while continuing its promising research in inertial confinement fusion. "Controlled fusion is the long-term, inherently safe, ecologically attractive energy source of the future," he said.