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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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APS, Day 3

Today opened with some interesting plenary talks. One was on the state of nuclear energy. Nuclear power is of course a way to provide energy without using fossil fuels and without releasing greenhouse gases that can promote global warming — a double win. However, there are still issues to be addressed with what to do with spent fuel and the possibility of proliferation. What came across to me is that nuclear power-plant technology has now been frozen for several decades, as no new nuclear plants have come online in that time. Robert Rosner, the speaker, said that what we really need to do is apply modern tools to the problem. He pointed out that the Boeing 777 never had a physical prototype; the entire design was done with computer simulations, and the first aircraft produced from the design was immediately used to carry passengers. If we trust that design process, why can’t we apply it to nuclear power plants? However, given that the entire field has been frozen, we can’t expect new results to come quickly; it will be decades before nuclear power will have a significant impact on energy or environmental problems.

We also had a talk from Richard Muller, whose book “Physics for Future Presidents” was recently published. He discussed a physics approach to terrorist threats, and concluded that he is more concerned about the damage that can be done by an airplane (ala 9/11) than about small nuclear devices that might be produced by rogue states. I must admit that both talks made me think — why am I not working on these problems?

After that, I took part in a press briefing in which I and other LHC scientists talked to various reporters about the status of the machine and the work that we are all doing with it. I’m not sure if anything I said will see the light of day, but I was glad to have the chance to be interviewed by German National Radio (in English, thank goodness).

Another highlight of the day for me was a session sponsored by the Forum on the History of Physics, which featured several presentations on the history of major accelerator efforts. Stan Wojcicki of Stanford gave us his personal impressions of the history of the SSC (of blessed memory). I hadn’t realized how quickly some aspects of that project had moved along, and it seemed to me that perhaps there hadn’t been enough time for contemplation along the way. Let’s hope that we’ve learned our lessons from that era.

I must admit that I’m feeling some conference fatigue at this point. But I’m looking forward to some of tomorrow’s presentations — more about that after I get home.

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