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Buongiorno, Whyte win Sloan Foundation grant

$1M Sloan Foundation grant supports NSE-led Future of Nuclear Energy Technologies study
Nuclear science and engineering professors Jacopo Buongiorno (left) and Dennis Whyte will lead a multidisciplinary team working on a Future of Nuclear Energy Technologies study.
Nuclear science and engineering professors Jacopo Buongiorno (left) and Dennis Whyte will lead a multidisciplinary team working on a Future of Nuclear Energy Technologies study.
Photos: Susan Young

MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) professors Jacopo Buongiorno and Dennis Whyte were awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation of $1 million to launch a new Future of Nuclear Energy Technologies study.

Buongiorno and Whyte will work with seven MIT faculty members from across the Institute, as well as two Harvard University faculty and two external consultants in a multidisciplinary effort. The goal of the study will be to conduct an objective assessment of the opportunities and challenges affecting the ability of nuclear energy technologies in meeting U.S. and global energy needs in a carbon-constrained world.

This study is particularly timely as the landscape and boundary conditions for nuclear energy have drastically changed in the past six-to-eight years due to a number of contributing factors. The study will be conducted over two years and will assess the prospects for innovative nuclear technologies, business models, and governance mechanisms to accelerate the transition to a lower-carbon energy system. It also comes as the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) is launching eight Low-Carbon Energy Centers to advance specific technology areas crucial to addressing climate change, two of which are focused on nuclear energy: the MIT Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, led by Buongiorno; and the Center for Fusion Research, led by Whyte. The centers bring together faculty from across the Institute and employ an innovative model that allows multiple sponsors to collaborate on high-risk, high-reward research programs while also developing their own individual research portfolios. Multidisciplinary research projects will be key components of the new centers.

This study is the next project in MITEI’s “Future of…” research series, in-depth overviews of specific energy sources containing detailed recommendations meant to shape and influence policy debates and development, technology choices, and future research. Past “Future of…” studies — the most recent of which was The Future of Solar Energy — have proved useful to members of Congress and the executive branch of government; industry leaders; and the informed public.

The multidisciplinary team includes: Jacopo Buongiorno of NSE, Michael Corradini of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and MIT, Dennis Whyte of NSE, and David Petti of Idaho National Laboratory and MIT, all experts in nuclear technology, safety, and regulations; Jessika Trancik of MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Jessica Lovering of the Breakthrough Institute, and Robert Varrin of Dominion Engineering, all experts in cost estimates of nuclear power plant systems and other energy systems; Richard Lester of NSE and Joe Lassiter of Harvard Business School, experts in innovation finance, policy, and management; John Parsons of the MIT Sloan School of Management, an expert in energy/electricity markets; Charles Forsberg of NSE and Bilge Yildiz of NSE, experts in energy storage, synthetic fuels, and nuclear hydrogen; and Steven Ansolabehere of Harvard's Department of Government, an expert in public opinion.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gives endowment-funded grants primarily to support original research and broad-based education related to science, technology, economic performance and the quality of American life. The foundation is unique based in its focus on science, technology, and economic institutions.

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