Keynote speaker from U.S. Department of Energy added for nuclear innovation summit

The various roles that nuclear power plays in space exploration, medicine, robotics and sustainability will be the focus of  “What IF Nuclear Innovation Could Save the World?: Atoms for Humanity” on Sept. 3-5.

Rita BaranwalRita Baranwal, assistant secretary of nuclear energy for the U.S. Department of Energy, will provide the opening keynote at 4 p.m. on Sept. 3.

Baranwal’s keynote, as well as the individual conversations and panel sessions, are free and open to the public. No registration required. All events take place in Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall.

In June, Baranwal was sworn in as the first woman to lead the Office of Nuclear Energy. She is responsible for promoting research and development of existing and advanced nuclear technologies, maintaining the existing fleet of nuclear reactors, and advancing the development of a pipeline of advanced reactor designs and supply chain capabilities. Her conversation will be moderated by PBS science correspondent Miles O’Brien.

Baranwal joins these other summit keynote speakers:

* Naomi Hirose, executive vice chair for Fukushima Affairs Tokyo Electric Power Co., 3:30-5 p.m., Sept. 4, “Fukushima Forward.” A panel discussion will follow this talk.

* U.S. Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and William Bookless, NNSA principal deputy administrator, 3:30-4:30 p.m., Sept. 5. “America’s Role in the Nuclear Future.”

During the summit, Purdue also will celebrate the university’s recent announcement of the nation’s first all-digital nuclear reactor system being installed at the university.

The summit is a part of Purdue’s Ideas Festival, the centerpiece of the university’s Giant Leaps Sesquicentennial Campaign, which is a series of events that connect world-renowned speakers and Purdue expertise in a conversation on the most critical problems facing the world. This is the first Ideas Festival event in which all four Giant Leaps themes are featured: space exploration, artificial intelligence, health and longevity, and sustainable economy and planet.

A complete list of featured speakers and panelists is available online. They will discuss nuclear energy’s impacts on health, space exploration, artificial intelligence, robotics and sustainability. They also will explore next-generation nuclear technology and the lessons learned from the tsunami that threatened nuclear power plants near Fukushima, Japan.

The summit is a partnership between Purdue and Third Way, a think tank that focuses on energy policy. The panels will be moderated by O’Brien and Jackie Kempfer, Third Way clean energy policy advisor.

Other panel topics include:

Sept. 3, 4-5:30 p.m., “Advancing Nuclear.” In the face of an accelerating climate crisis, nuclear power is at a crossroads. While the industry is an important source of carbon-free energy in the U.S., old plants are getting shuttered and new plants are struggling to gain financial footing. Enter next-generation nuclear. Innovations driven by advanced materials, supercomputing and modular construction – along with government and venture funding – is making a new era for nuclear power possible. A powerful lineup of industry and government movers and shakers, as well as advanced nuclear innovators, will provide a glimpse of the future.

Sept. 4, 10:30 a.m. to noon, “Next Gen Nuclear: Space Exploration.” Not since the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of the Cold War-era race with the Soviet Union, has the quest for exploration beyond Earth been as starry-eyed and urgent. NASA, along with billionaire and venture-backed startups, has its eyes set on the moon and beyond as global competition heats up. This session will focus on how nuclear energy is necessary to provide power for a lunar outpost and to propel future space missions farther and longer than ever before.

Sept. 4, 1:30-3 p.m., “Next Gen Nuclear: Climate and Clean Energy.” What is nuclear energy’s role in a world weaning itself off carbon? That question has become an essential element of the growing debate over how to mitigate the near- and long-term effects of global warming. A panel of leading global experts will bring context to a debate that has become more public and more urgent.

Sept. 5, 10:30 a.m. to noon. “Next Gen Nuclear: Medicine and Health.” About one-third of all procedures used in modern hospitals involve radiation or radioactivity. This session will focus on the successes and challenges facing the field of nuclear medicine. How is the recent restructuring of the Tc-99m radioisotope market playing out domestically? How are nuclear diagnostics and treatments advancing personalized medicine? And how can fusion research spin out health applications?

Sept. 5, 1:30-3 p.m. “Next Gen Nuclear: Safety and Security.” The digital revolution – not just software and hardware, but big data, artificial intelligence and robotics as well – is transforming the nuclear power industry. Purdue is home to the PUR-1 reactor, now upgraded with the first fully digital instrumentation and control system in the United States. In this session, leading experts will discuss how digital technology promises to revolutionize the industry.

This is the third summit O’Brien will have moderated as part of the Ideas Festival. The first two explored “What IF We Could Engineer Better Health” and “What IF Food Was Digital.” Before joining the “PBS NewsHour,” O’Brien was a science, environmental and aerospace correspondent for CNN.

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