In his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress in 2011, President Obama lauded nuclear power as an essential part of the non-carbon mix that he would champion while revamping our inefficient, high-carbon energy sector:

“Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all…”

In 2012′s address, the president mentioned “renewable energy” and “jobs”, but didn’t explicitly mention or neglect nuclear power. This year, however, he listed a number of energy sources on which the energy future of the United States would rely. Wind, solar, natural gas, and oil all made the list again this year, but nuclear power was absent. In the same breath that the president touted natural gas, he even pointed out “…our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.”

This trend in the administration’s pronouncements, on the heels of a resignation announcement by Dr. Steven Chu, our nation’s first Nobel Prize-winning energy secretary, may seem disturbing signals for young nuclear professionals in the United States who have hinged their careers on a nuclear future. Meanwhile, the waste confidence conundrum continues to passively block new licenses and extensions, and a Department of Energy response to the Blue Ribbon Commission puts advanced reprocessing on the R&D back-burner indefinitely.

From the perspective of young nuclear professionals such as myself, this research and industry development outlook is not the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative/Global Nuclear Energy Partnership “renaissance” that was so promising when we entered university. Though members of the community in an older generation may have already weathered the political ups and downs of this industry first-hand, younger members may struggle to trust that the United States is not turning its back on new nuclear power and R&D.

A more encouraging development might be the potential candidacy of Ernie Moniz for energy secretary. For that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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ANS Nuclear Cafe welcomes new contributor Katy Huff. She is a PhD candidate in nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a laboratory graduate appointee at Argonne National Laboratory working on computational fuel cycle analysis. She currently develops Cyder, a nuclear waste disposal system model, and the Cyclus next generation fuel cycle simulator.