ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

US Faces Challenge Of Nuclear Waste.

In a piece titled “As World Expands Nuclear Power, US Grapples With Decades Of Waste,” the Christian Science Monitor  (3/25, Gilmour) reports the Federal “government is seeking to stay relevant in an evolving global nuclear industry, in part by proposing new ways to confront a decades-old challenge: handling mounting nuclear waste.” The Monitor reports that, calling Yucca Mountain “unworkable,” the Obama administration “is now pushing for a new path forward on nuclear waste disposal that emphasizes a ‘consent-based’ approach and separate facilities for energy- and defense-related waste.” The Energy Department “said this week it will seek interim storage sites for commercial waste and begin planning a permanent geological repository for defense waste.” At a press conference on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “A separate repository for defense waste could allow greater flexibility in selection of a site, and greater flexibility could help keep costs down. … We think these steps are just common sense.”

US News & World Report  (3/26, Neuhauser) reports that “four Senators from both sides of the aisle promoted legislation Tuesday calling for the construction of interim disposal sites for nuclear waste, a potential alternative to decades of deadlock over a permanent facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.” The bill “mirrors recommendations published in January 2012 by the Energy Department’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.” Yesterday, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz “returned to some of the report’s conclusions during remarks at a think tank in the nation’s capital, adding that the department would seek to create two kinds of nuclear repositories: one for spent fuel from civilian nuclear reactors and the other for defense projects.” While DOE “can begin searching for potential sites, it ultimately needs action from Congress to construct any disposal facilities.” Moniz said, “We will be able to move forward in a generic way … building this consent-based process. … But we cannot execute in the end without new authority.”

Yucca Mountain Supporters Introduce Nuclear Waste Measure. The Reno (NV) Gazette-Journal  (3/26, Theobald) reports that Freshman Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy “may have kicked off this latest round” concerning the “sticky problem of nuclear waste disposal.” Hardy’s open letter Sunday called for an “honest conversation” about the “pros and cons of storing waste at Yucca Mountain” and this week the issue “received additional attention…with the introduction of bipartisan legislation in the Senate that outlines a plan for disposing of spent nuclear fuel and military waste, and a speech by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz describing a shift in the Obama administration’s approach to the issue.” Proponents of the Yucca Mountain site including: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK); Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Lamar Alexander (R-TN); and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), introduced the Nuclear Waste Administration Act Tuesday that would “create an independent agency to manage the country’s nuclear waste program, taking that duty away from the Energy Department.” The “agency’s administrator would be appointed by the president and subject to Senate confirmation.”

Cresent’s Op-Ed On Yucca Stirs Up Old Debate On Yucca Mountain. The Las Vegas Sun  (3/25, Phillips) reports that Rep. Cresent Hardy’s op-ed “has all sides digging in their heels.” Nevada’s “Democratic leaders and ardent Yucca opponents responded predictably” with Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Dina Titus, criticizing Hardy’s call for “dialogue on storing the nation’s nuclear waste” at Yucca Mountain as “irresponsible.” Hardy’s commentary Sunday “is consistent with what he’s said since he was elected in November to represent North Las Vegas and central, rural Nevada.” His views have also “aligned with those of Rep. Mark Amodei…who told the Mesquite News in February that state leaders shouldn’t just scream ‘no’ on Yucca.”

Higher Education

Cal Poly Pomona Students Install Solar Panels At Low-Income Homes.

USA Today  (3/26) reports that a group of 30 California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, students are spending spring break “installing solar panels at three low-income homes” this week, working with the nonprofit GRID Alternatives, which “helps homeowners go solar free of charge and trains students hoping to break into the solar industry.” The article quotes electrical and electronics engineering student Gregory Lynch saying, “We at Cal Poly Pomona are proud to represent our interests in helping the less fortunate with our skills and knowledge in engineering.”

NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium Awards Scholarships.

The Coeur d’Alene (ID) Press  (3/26) reports the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium awarded $5,000 scholarships to 12 North Idaho College students so they can “pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” To qualify for all of the money, “the students will participate in STEM-related activities” through next year.

BLS Study Shows College Degree Doesn’t Guarantee Short Unemployment Period.

Bloomberg News  (3/25) reports that while a college degree is “a clear plus” in the job market, with college graduates far less likely to be unemployed than high school dropouts, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, “once you’re out of work, being better educated barely seems to improve your chances” of finding new work quickly. The piece reports that 37.7% of unemployed college graduates were out of work for 27 weeks or more, compared with 38.3% of high school dropouts.

NACAC Report Stresses Importance Of High School Counselors’ Role In College Transition.

Caralee Adams writes at the Education Week  (3/26) “College Bound” blog that a new report from researchers with the National Association for College Admission Counseling “confirms that school counselors are critical to helping students transition from high school to college and career,” but points out that they often lack sufficient time to successfully complete this mission. Adams writes that the report, titled “A National Look at the High School Counseling Office,” stresses “the value of counseling services but points to a mismatch in administrator expectations and actual time granted for college counseling.”

Growth In Online College Enrollment Stagnates.

The AP  (3/26, Balatsos) reports that for years, the online college sector has been growing steadily, but growth has tapered significantly in recent years. The AP reports that a pair of researchers with Babson College’s Babson Survey Research Group found that in 2012, the sector’s growth rate fell from an average of 9.7% to “a 10-year low,” and now has “stopped altogether.”

VIDEOS – Watch a collection of talks from the Public Policy Colloquium, held in February. (Due to audio problems, not all talks were captured.)
A funding opportunity for NSF Education Grantees – Attend I-Corps L Webinar, Thursday, March 26
To register for this webinar, email Read more about the program.

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Research and Development

ANL Scientist Says That In The Future Homes May Be Engineered To Keep Pathogens Out.

In a piece about the indoor biome, “The Learning Network” blog of the New York Times  (3/26, Cutraro) reports Argonne National Laboratory research scientist Jack Gilbert “says that in the future, it might be possible to design and engineer homes to keep out pathogens.”

Facebook Working Hard To Develop Artificial Intelligence Software.

The International Business Times  (3/25, Nordrum) reports Yann LeCun, “head of Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research lab, spoke Tuesday about how Facebook originally built the tools that currently handle the site’s many photos and how his team plans to expand on that proficiency to build the next generation of artificial-intelligence software.” LeCun and his 40-member team are “in a race against other major technological companies, including Google, to create the fastest and most sophisticated systems not only for facial recognition but also for a whole suite of products built on the tenets of artificial intelligence.”

Industry News

Alcoa To Receive Loan From DOE Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Loan Program.

Bloomberg News  (3/26, Plungis) reports the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program has “resumed lending after a four-year hiatus to retool the lending project’s focus.” Under the program, “Alcoa Inc. has been approved for a $259 million loan…to upgrade a factory making high-strength aluminum that can improve automobile gas mileage.” Executive director of the Energy Department’s loan program office Peter Davidson said, “The ATVM program is back in business.” The loan is slated to be announced today.

In an interview with the Detroit News  (3/25, Shepardson), Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the agency has been in “very, very active early-stage discussions with potential applicants.” He indicated that “more loans may be forthcoming, declining to say how many current applicants the program is reviewing.” Moniz said, “I think we’re on the right track,” adding that the program “is running on all cylinders. … We are going to be very aggressive in terms of good projects — we’re going to try to move them out.”

The Wall Street Journal  (3/26, Ramsey, Subscription Publication) also provides coverage of this story.

Engineering and Public Policy

High Court Appears Split On EPA Pollution Rules.

McClatchy  (3/26, Doyle, Subscription Publication) predicts “some environmental protections could face a hazier future after a Supreme Court argument Wednesday in an important clean-air case that’s already divided states and leading energy companies.” Justices appeared “split over whether the Environmental Protection Agency must take cost into account in deciding to regulate mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants,” with “all smoke signs” suggesting “an eventual 5-4 decision, though it’s unclear in which direction it will blow.” The New York Times  (3/26, Liptak, Subscription Publication) similarly describes the court as “closely divided over the fate of one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental initiatives,” while Reuters  (3/26, Hurley) indicates the five conservative justices, including Anthony Kennedy, appeared skeptical of the rules. The Wall Street Journal  (3/26, Kendall, Subscription Publication) casts Kennedy as the key vote, but does not characterize his position during yesterday’s arguments.

WSJournal Criticizes Justice Breyer’s Defense Of EPA Mercury Rule. The Wall Street Journal  (3/26, Subscription Publication) editorializes on yesterday’s oral arguments, arguing that the rule is part of an EPA effort to close coal-fired power plants. The Journal focuses on the EPA’s disregard for the cost of complying with the rule, despite the law’s apparent requirement that it do so, and criticizes an argument proposed by Justice Stephen Breyer that the EPA could take costs into account in implementing the rule. The Journal thinks this is unlikely and argues that the Court should strike down the rule in order to make the EPA adhere to the requirements of the act.

Fossil Fuel And Nuclear Power Said To Be Needed As ‘Hot Backups’.

Readers of the Los Angeles Times  (3/26) react to an earlier op-ed . A former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power engineer writes, “politicians and environmentalists seem to ignore the fact that wind and solar sources are unreliable” because both are not “dispatchable” and so require nuclear and fossil fuel plants be “retained as ‘hot backup’ to wind and solar.”

AEA President Urges Congress To Eliminate Renewable-Fuel Standard.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal  (3/26, Subscription Publication), Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, makes a case against the renewable-fuel standard, calling it corporate welfare for ethanol producers and arguing that it increases food and fuel prices. Noting that most of the potential Republican presidential candidates have voiced support for the RFS, Pyle calls on Congress to eliminate it.

Elementary/Secondary Education

California District Adds Classes On STEAM Subjects For Third- To Sixth-Grade Students.

The San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune  (3/25, Lambert) reports that San Luis Coastal Unified School District in California has added 12 five-week classes on STEAM subjects into its curriculum for third- through sixth-grade students. The classes include math, science and engineering as well as painting, movie making and theater and have been seen as successes to date.

Kansas City Science Fair Award Winners Listed.

The Kansas City (MO) Star  (3/26) presented a list of all students that received awards at the greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair.

Girl Scout Inventors Meet With Obama.

The Huffington Post  (3/26, Keady) reports that the “adorable” six-year old girl scouts that created a page-turning robot met with President Obama, who talked with them about their invention. Troop leader Suzanne Dodson said girls often “lose confidence” in their abilities in STEM subjects in middle school and that having positive experiences at a young age gives girls “a confidence boost.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Supreme Court To Hear Challenge To Mercury Regulations Wednesday.
Rise In Foreign Student Population At US Universities Discussed.
Researchers Develop Sidewinding S&R Robot.
Jenkins Sees Tesla Eventually Being Bought By Traditional Auto Company.
First Research Wind Turbines To Be Placed Off Virginia Coast.
Students’ Hydrofuge To Be Tested On ISS.

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