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Statement for the Record by Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary

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to the Committee on Science United States House of Representatives

January 6, 1995

Impacts of Science and Technology: A Vision for the Year 2015

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I appreciate the invitation to testify at your first hearing of the 104th Congress and regret that a long-standing commitment prevents my personal attendance. As we agreed in our recent conversation, Mr. Chairman, I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Committee in the near future to present my views on the subject of this hearing, or on any other topic involving the Department of Energy.

You have presented a provocative and important challenge to your witnesses in asking each of us to discuss how our Departments are preparing to meet the revolutionary changes projected to occur in the next 20 years. During that period--as over the past 20 years--science and technology will yield powerful, yet in many cases unpredictable, new developments that will affect our economy, national security, environment, and quality of life.

As one of the nation's major supporters of federal research and development, the Department of Energy has a wide range of extremely exciting R&D programs under way that hold the potential to contribute in important ways to a better future. The basic framework for our investments is established through our statutory missions in energy resources and end- use technologies; national security, primarily as it relates to nuclear weapons-related science and security issues; clean-up of the by products of nuclear weapons production; and fundamental science in areas that underlie these mission areas, including high-energy and nuclear physics.

Successful performance in each of these mission areas depends on further advances in scientific and technological research. For example:

  • Achieving greater efficiency and diversity of energy sources will require new innovations in both energy production and utilization. By the year 2015, America's demand for electricity is expected to approach 4 trillion kilowatt-hours--up from 2.6 trillion kilowatt-hours in 1990. By this time, the fuel cell will likely have taken its place as an environmentally viable and cost- effective new option for generating some of this electricity demand--in no small part because of the joint public-private cost-shared R&D program which the Department has been supporting. The fuel cell will emit none of the smog-causing pollutants of conventional power sources, and will be ideal for distributed power sources--minimizing the need for long- distance transmission lines.

  • Further reducing the nuclear danger will require major advances in our understanding of the fundamental science associated with nuclear weapons. In the year 2015, nuclear weapon stockpiles world-wide likely will have been reduced to but a small fraction of current levels (the Department currently is dismantling more than 2,000 nuclear weapons per year) and the safety and security of nuclear weapons is expected to rest on an international regime in which nuclear weapons testing has been banned world-wide. Such accomplishments will depend on political developments, but also to a considerable degree on scientific and technical advances at the Department's National Laboratories which will ensure confidence in the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the absence of testing and in limiting the proliferation of nuclear materials and related technologies.

  • The production of nuclear weapons over the past 50 years has generated a waste clean-up challenge that cannot affordably be addressed without major advances both in our understanding of the science of chemical and radioactive wastes and the development of new technologies for cleaning up contaminated sites. In the year 2015, innovative clean-up technologies could enable the Department to return up to 90 percent of today's 3,700 contaminated sites to other productive uses in society.

  • By the year 2015, the private sector will have succeeded in taking fundamental new knowledge in molecular biology, materials science, and computational chemistry and turned them into commercial products. Some of this new knowledge will have emerged as a result of pioneering research performed at major user facilities operated at the Department's National Laboratories--where advanced "Light Sources" (which generate powerful beams of ultraviolet light and x-rays) are enabling academic, industrial, and governmentresearchers to explore scientific frontiers that cannot be reached in any other fashion.

Mr. Chairman, I could go on at considerable length in describing ongoing R&D programs of the Department of Energy that we believe will make substantial contributions in meeting the public missions of this agency. To a growing extent, these programs are being performed through partnerships including the Department and other government agencies, academia, and the private sector. One of the great challenges facing our nation is how best to integrate the complementary strengths and needs of R&D performers in the public and private sectors, with the goals of furthering U.S. leadership in science and technology, strengthening our economy and national security, and addressing national problems for which science and technology offer solutions. I look forward to the opportunity to testify before the Science Committee to describe in more detail our contributions toward meeting these goals.

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