by David Prentice
January 26, 2009
POSITION: SECRETARY OF ENERGY
NOMINEE: Steven Chu
BIRTH DATE: February 28, 1948, St. Louis, MO
EDUCATION: AB in Math and BS in Physics 1970, U Rochester
Ph.D. in Physics 1976, UC-Berkeley
Postdoctoral fellow UC-Berkeley 1976-1978
FAMILY: Wife, Jean Chu, two grown sons, Geoffrey and Michael, by a previous marriage
FRC SCORECARD: NA
Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Aug 2004-Jan 2009
Professor of Atomic Physics and Biological Physics, UC-Berkeley, 2004-2009
Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997, co-winner, “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light”
Member of the National Academy of Sciences, elected 1993
Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Stanford University, 1987-2008
Head of Quantum Electronic Dept., AT&T Bell Labs, 1983-1987
Technical Staff, AT&T Bell Labs, 1978-1983
STATEMENTS ON GLOBAL WARMING:
In speeches to organizations around the globe, Chu has delivered a consistent message. “Stronger storms, shrinking glaciers and winter snowpack, prolonged droughts and rising sea levels are raising the specter of global food and water shortages. The ominous signs of climate change we see today are a warning of dire economic and social consequences for us all, but especially for the poor of the world,” Chu has said. “The path to finding solutions is to bring together the finest, most passionate minds to work on the problem in a coordinated effort, and to give these researchers the resources commensurate with the challenge.”
Chu, in a prepared statement, called the challenges of climate change “a growing and pressing problem” And he said that continuing dependence on oil represents a threat to the U.S. economy and security.
On Gas Prices
Mr. Chu has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.
‘Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,’ Mr. Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September.”
On Alternative Energy Sources
“What about other energy sources? Big Coal won’t be very happy if Dr. Chu gets confirmed as head of the DOE-he’s really, really not a big fan. “Coal is my worst nightmare,” he said repeatedly in a speech earlier this year outlining his lab’s alternative-energy approaches.
If coal is to stay part of the world’s energy mix, he says, clean-coal technologies must be developed. But he’s not very optimistic: “It’s not guaranteed we have a solution for coal,” he concluded, given the sheer scope of the challenge of economically storing billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions underground.
Worried about radioactivity? Coal’s still your bogeyman. Dr. Chu says a typical coal plant emits 100 times more radiation than a nuclear plant, given the flyash emissions of radioactive particles.
That doesn’t mean nuclear power is much better. “The waste and proliferation issues [surrounding nuclear power] still haven’t been completely solved,” he said. A big part of the Department of Energy’s job is to oversee nuclear weapons and waste storage. And the Obama campaign made clear that increased reliance on nuclear power will require finding a “safe” way to dispose of radioactive waste.
How about renewable energy? Dr. Chu already had a taste of Washington power-brokering, in a briefing with current Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. He pitched them on the idea of an interstate electricity transmission system to be paid for by ratepayers. That would solve one of the biggest hurdles to wide-spread adoption of clean energy like wind and solar power.