Monday, September 5, 2011

Post # 53: Farewell To ORNL

Some of you may know I announced my retirement last week from ORNL, effective September 29, 2011.

I joined ORNL in December 1978 – just three months before the accident at Three Mile Island.  It has been a wonderful 33 years.  I've had the privilege of working with and learning from some of ORNL's pioneers of nuclear energy science and technology – folks like Walt Jordan, Don Trauger, Irv Spiewak, Truman Anderson, Tom Cole, Paul Kasten, Howard Bowers, Dave Eissenberg, Tom Kress and George Parker - just to name a few.  I even had the privilege a few years ago of spending one bright Spring afternoon alone with Alvin Weinberg in his study.  We discussed his extraordinary career and his vision for a world powered by nuclear energy.  I've worked along side many extraordinary engineers, scientists, and leaders from across the national laboratory complex, DOE, NRC, NASA, and the nuclear industry.  What a blessing!

ORNL has been a wonderful environment for learning and personal growth – a nurturing and empowering environment for one who considers himself an "R&D entrepreneur" and problem solver.  It has been a place where one is limited only by one's vision – and one's ability to "infect" others with that vision.  Working at ORNL has been a gift – actually a "dream-come-true" for a boy from rural east Tennessee whose family had never educated anyone beyond high school.  I grew up hearing about that magical place in Oak Ridge where they were changing the world, and I wanted to be part of it. And so I have been.

Most of my career at ORNL has been involved in the pursuit of what I call "probletunities" (opportunities masquerading as problems), and building teams of talented people to pursue them.  It is the successful solution of a problem that captures the headlines.  It's the bonds one forms with one's colleagues that captures the heart. 

So where to from here? 

Though I am retiring from ORNL, I am NOT retiring from my career.  I just feel the timing is right for a change, and I'm excited about moving to the next phase of my career.  But, I do not know where the Lord will lead me next.  Our nation and our planet are faced with a number of grand probletunities.  I do not intend to sit on the sidelines with so much to be done.  At this point in my career, I'm all about impact.

My knowledge of the DOE, NRC, NASA and NNSA corporate cultures affords opportunities to continue to have impact at the national level.  From the technical perspective, my career has been centered in nuclear energy.  During my years at ORNL, I've delved deeply into BWR severe accident analysis and reactor safety, advanced reactor concept development, reactor-based weapons plutonium disposition, space power (fission and radioisotope), reactor and power plant siting, and a host of other research areas. 

My interests have broadened in the past several years to include strategic energy issues, energy policy and R&D strategy, sustainable energy, Design Thinking, and the application of evolutionary computational techniques to the solution of "wicked problems".  

I believe high temperature fluoride salt cooled reactors could be a key element of a transformational national energy infrastructure.   As some of you know, I've devoted quite a bit of effort during the past couple of years to the development of a practical concept for a small modular fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor – the SmATHR concept.  I've had the pleasure of leading a highly talented group of engineers at ORNL in the development of a pre-conceptual SmATHR design.  I hope to continue to evolve the SmATHR reactor system and energy storage concept after my departure from ORNL. 

During all these years, I've taken pleasure in teething the opportunity out of the probletunity; birthing, executing, and completing R&D projects and programs; and adding value everywhere possible. Most of all, I've enjoyed solving problems through the enlightened application of science and technology, innovative thinking, and empowering my teammates.  After all, a successful R&D project is not one that simply grows and continues.  The measure of a successful R&D project is completion and delivery of the solution – whether it be an idea, and analysis, a technology, or a system.

So as you might guess, I'm not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up!

I'll continue to share my thoughts here and hope you will "stay tuned" to my stream of consciousness on sustainable energy.  Please contribute to the dialog.  Your comments are always welcome! 

And please checkout my new website @