Steven Chu on Nuclear Power After Japan Earthquake

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Imke Lass / Redux

Why shouldn’t Americans be concerned about the safety of nuclear power after what they’ve seen in Japan?

Whenever there is an accident, it’s very natural to have concern. We’ll take this opportunity to look again at all our nuclear sites. We get 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear power, and you just don’t turn that off overnight. We think that nuclear power should be part of the mix.

Gas prices have doubled under the Obama administration. Why?

It’s supply and demand. We don’t have to be a slave to these roller-coaster rides in the oil price if we have other choices for transportation energy.

Do you ever tease Obama about not actually earning his Nobel Prize? Because he doesn’t seem to think he deserved it.

No, I think he deserved it. He likes to kind of occasionally yank my chain about being a nerd, which I love.

In one sentence, describe your research.

We used laser light to cool down atoms to very, very low temperatures.

Last summer you wrote a paper called “Subnanometre Single-Molecule Localization Registration and Distance Measurements.” When asked about it, you said, “I consider it my equivalent of vegging out in front of the TV.”

The first 80 hours a week of my time go to my full-time job at the Department of Energy. But in the wee hours of the morning, on airplane trips, I can go back and forth. It doesn’t take much time, and it’s a good release.

You have said “science has unambiguously shown that we’re altering the destiny of our planet.” Do you still hold out hope for climate-change legislation?

The case that not only is the climate changing but that it is caused predominantly by humans is more compelling each succeeding year despite attempts to muddy the waters. In the end the truth will win out, because you can’t turn a matter of science into a political debate. It’s like, if you get enough votes, you can repeal Newton’s second law. It doesn’t work that way.

The president has called for closing tax loopholes for the oil and gas industry. When are we going to stop subsidizing our dependence on oil?

Oil subsidies in the United States started in 1917. One hundred years is a long enough time. You don’t want to go in with the idea that you’re going to be subsidizing any industry forever.

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