Recommended Long Read: What does the Department of Energy actually do and why you should care about how it is run.

Vanity Fair:  Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From Inside the White House – Michael Lewis

The title is unfortunately click-baity and partisan, but it really is worth a read.

The shambles that the State Department is in, the turmoil at the DOJ, and the tick-tock of the ACA fight get way more ink, but given the magnitude of the downside risk, it is worth understanding the state of the DOE, what it does, and why you should care.

tl;dr – Nerds matter.  Fund their research, listen to them, and manage them well.

The national labs played a big role in policing all three paths [for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon]. “These labs are incredible national resources, and they are directly responsible for keeping us safe,” said MacWilliams. “It’s because of them that we can say with absolute certainty that Iran cannot surprise us with a nuclear weapon.”After the [Iran Nuclear] deal was done, U.S. Army officers had approached D.O.E. officials to thank them for saving American lives. The deal, they felt sure, had greatly lessened the chance of yet another war in the Middle East that the United States would inevitably be dragged into.”

Topics covered:
1) The transition from the Obama to the Trump administration
2) What the DOE does
a)  Maintaining nuclear arsenal and protecting US from threats
b)  Nuclear waste cleanup
c)  Programs to shape American’s use and access to Energy
d)  National Labs
3) The Top 5 risks according to John MacWilliam’s, DOE’s 1st Chief Risk Officer (in no particular order)
a)  “Broken Arrows”
b)  North Korea
c)  Iran – Pulling out from the Iran Nuclear deal.
d)  Lack of government leadership in preparing for large societal risk because it is politically risky (e.g. Investment in early stage research, securing the electrical grid.)
e)  Project management and short-sightedness (e.g. Hanford)

Some excerpts

” D.O.E. press secretary Shaylyn Hynes assures us that “Secretary Perry is dedicated to the missions of the Department of Energy.” And in his hearings, Perry made a show of having educated himself. He said how useful it was to be briefed by former secretary Ernest Moniz. But when I asked someone familiar with those briefings how many hours Perry had spent with Moniz, he laughed and said, “That’s the wrong unit of account.” With the nuclear physicist who understood the D.O.E. perhaps better than anyone else on earth, according to one person familiar with the meeting, Perry had spent minutes, not hours. “He has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a D.O.E. staffer told me in June. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.”

In his four years on the job MacWilliams had come to understand the D.O.E.’s biggest risks, the way a corporate risk officer might understand the risks inside a company, and had catalogued them for the next administration. “My team prepared its own books. They were never given to anybody. I never had a chance to sit with [the Trump people] and tell them what we’re doing, even for a day. And I’d have done it for weeks. I think this was a sad thing. There are things you want to know that would keep you up at night. And I never talked to anyone about them.””


This entry was posted in politics, science, society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *