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Energy Secretary Steven Chu talks politics and nuclear power in Santa Barbara

March 5, 2010 |  4:57 pm

From life in Washington to nuclear waste disposal and more, Energy Secretary Steven Chu navigated a slew of topics at a Santa Barbara conference Friday. Calling his job a sort of “multi-dimensional chess game” that involved “a lot of crystal ball stuff,” the government's top energy official said that he saw his position as a form of “prudent risk management.” After a little more than a year in office, he said that his transition is “going all right.”

Chu was the final speaker at the ECO:nomics conference put on by the Wall Street Journal. Other featured guests included Peter Voser, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell and John M. Woolard, chief executive of BrightSource Energy.

As a former academic who shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1997, Chu said that he’s noticed several common denominators between Washington D.C. and his past life as a professor. “Practice over 35 years of explaining things to people is helpful,” he joked. But his experiences with politics, he said, have shown him that “it is so much easier to spread fear than it is to spread a vision of the future.”

Chu also discussed the controversial nuclear waste repository that had been planned at Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas. The Energy Department officially asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week to withdraw the license application for the site after pressure from the Obama administration.

The Nevada site, Chu said, has long been considered not ideal. "It is what it is," said the staunch advocate for research into nuclear power. "But instead of wringing my hands, let's go forward and do something better." If nuclear projects "can be built on time and on budget, they can be  very good investment," he said.

-- Tiffany Hsu


Over at sister blog Money & Company: Steven Chu also talks about China and India at the economics forum.