I'm extremely interested in policy and governance surrounding technology. Nuclear energy (and energy tech) is not my specialty, but is undoubtedly one of the most important modern fields. I was excited by the potential to engage in environmental policy and learn about policy analysis.
How does your role support the host organization's mission?
I specifically work for the High Level Radioactive Waste (HLRW) Committee, which is one of the organizations under the Western Interstate Energy Board (WIEB). The primary mission of this committee is to provide policy guidance surrounding waste transportation and storage. I am helping to clean-up and analyze an Energy Information Administration database that focuses on the current storage conditions of nuclear waste in the United States. This analysis project will inform the field about the state of storage today and provide advice regarding transportation policy. It is a project that focuses on the main mission of the HLRW.
How would you describe one of the projects you will be working on this summer?
My role in the organization is essentially synonymous with the project; I was brought to WIEB specifically to perform this data analysis work. The goal of the project is to explore prioritization methods for the transportation of radioactive waste to long-term storage facilities. The status quo policy is to move "Oldest Fuel First." This is both a good, common-sense policy and, importantly, an enormous over-simplification of the problem. For various reasons, calculating fuel age is nontrivial and it is unclear. Is age, alone, is a sufficient stand-in metric for fuel safest? Essentially, I am using the EIA database to explore the complexities of "Oldest Fuel First" and develop a more implementable safety standard.
How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?
This project is both very much in-line with my goals, and very different than anything I have done before. First of all, I am a CS (Computer Science) major specifically interested in the interaction between technology and government/law. I want to have a career in policy development surrounding these issues. In this project , I am using my computational skills to support policy that is focused on energy technology. This project shows both how technology can bolster governance and how policy must regulate technology. I am learning a tremendous amount about the relationship which I hope will be central to my career.
Has anything surprised you about the work, the organization, or the environment?
Two primary things came to mind when I read this question. The first is how much I've already learned this summer. Although I am still working on acronym memorization, I am beginning to feel semi-fluent in the jargon of the nuclear-waste world. I have also become very competent with SQL and Matplotlib, two tools which I had next-to-no experience with coming into the summer. However, probably the most surprising thing has been how supportive the team has been. Today we gave our first presentation to people outside of the organization. Melanie and Maury (my supervisor and the Director of WIEB) listened intently to a practice-run of our 1.5 hour presentation this morning to provide feedback and then listened to the same presentation a second time when we actually gave the Webinar. That's 3 hours focused solely on supporting their two interns. Honestly, I wouldn't even expect my own parents to listen to my project twice in a row. I am so surprised and touched by their level of commitment to our experience.