August 21, 2015
Capitol Update

In this issue:


NRC ISSUES DRAFT SUPPLEMENT TO YUCCA MOUNTAIN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has released a draft environmental impact statement supplement on the effects of a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain. The NRC will begin taking public comments on the draft August 21st upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register.

The draft supplements environmental impact statements the Department of Energy prepared on the proposed repository. DOE issued the final EIS in 2002, then supplemented it in June 2008. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, DOE is responsible for analyzing and proposing mitigation measures for environmental impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and the NRC is to adopt DOE’s statement to the extent practicable. The NRC staff recommended adoption of DOE’s statements in September 2008, but noted two areas needed supplementation with further analysis: potential impacts on groundwater and from groundwater discharges. DOE deferred to the NRC to prepare the supplement.

The supplement finds that the impacts would be “small.” It describes the affected environment with respect to the groundwater flow path from the repository. It models that flow path and movement of radiological and non-radiological contaminants. It evaluates the impacts of contaminants at locations where groundwater is currently being withdrawn, and locations of natural surface discharge along the groundwater flow path. It considers the effects from possible changes in climate and water withdrawal, and cumulative impacts from other past, present and reasonably foreseeable future activities in the area.

After considering the comments received, the staff will revise the supplement, as appropriate, before issuing a final supplement in early 2016.

Additional information about the NRC Supplement can be found on the ASME Public Policy Education Center at: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/


NASA AWARDS GRANTS FOR TECHNOLOGIES THAT COULD TRANSFORM SPACE EXPLORATION

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected eight university-led proposals to study innovative, early stage technologies that will address high-priority needs of America's space program. The awards are approximately $200,000 per year, up to a possible three years of research, for early-career faculty who research space technologies that are high priorities for NASA missions.

The selected proposals for unique, disruptive or transformational space technologies will investigate challenges in the areas of solar cell operations at high temperatures, atmospheric entry model development, synthetic biology applications for space exploration and dynamic tensegrity-based space structures. Tensegrity is a property of structures that employs continuous tension and discontinuous compression to produce exceptionally strong structures for their mass.

These proposals have the potential to yield significant rewards for space exploration by:

  • Allowing solar cells to function at reasonable levels of efficiency in high-temperature environments;
  • Improving the process of identifying the most effective thermal protection systems for entering various atmospheres;
  • Providing the means to produce food, medical supplies and building materials on site at distant destinations using synthetic, biology-based approaches; and,
  • Enabling more capable and affordable space missions through the development of tensegrity technologies that permit large, reconfigurable structures such as antennas, solar arrays and observatories, as well as lightweight landers.

A listing of the eight proposals may be viewed at: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-grants-for-technologies-that-could-transform-space-exploration


PCAST ASSESSES FEDERAL INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY R&D

Earlier this month, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its latest report to the President and Congress, “Ensuring Leadership in Federally Funded Research and Development in Information Technology.” The report is a Congressionally mandated assessment of the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program, which coordinates the Nation’s federally-funded research and development. This report provides an update on the progress of the NITRD Program since the last assessment in 2013 and makes new recommendations.

In the report, PCAST focuses on eight R&D areas: cybersecurity, IT and health, Big Data and data-intensive computing, IT and the physical world, privacy protection, cyber-human systems, high capability computing, and foundational computing research.

The report also offers recommendations to continue to coordinate Federal investment in IT R&D effectively. It is time to refresh the set of categories for IT R&D spending, known as Program Component Areas (PCAs). Many of these PCAs date back to 1995 and have remained unchanged. This report proposes eight new PCAs beginning in FY 2017 and recommends updating them every 5 to 6 years to ensure alignment with current priorities in IT fields.

For more information about the full PCAST report, please visit: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/research-and-development/


THREE NEW ENGINEERING RESEARCH CENTERS WILL ADVANCE U.S. RESILIENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $55.5 million in three new Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) to create novel technology platforms and transform industries. These three ERCs will address national challenges in energy, sustainability and infrastructure.
Over the next five years, these flagship centers will generate knowledge and high-tech innovations while contributing to U.S. economic opportunities and the preparation of engineering graduates. The NSF ERCs collaborate with international university partners and American technology companies, large and small, to conduct translational research and prepare U.S. engineering students to successfully participate in the global economy.
Additional information on the three new ERCs is available at:

  • The NSF Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS): http://poets-erc.org/
  • The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT): http://news.rice.edu/
  • The NSF Engineering Research Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG): http://biogeotechnics.org/

Including these three new fiscal year 2015 awards, NSF supports 20 ERCs in the areas of advanced manufacturing; biotechnology and health care; energy, sustainability and infrastructure; and microelectronics, sensing and information technology.


NAE LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE TO SUPPORT IMPLEMENTATION OF PRE K-12 ENGINEERING EDUCATION

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has launched a new website, LinkEngineering (www.linkengineering.org), intended to help PreK-12 educators in the United States implement engineering education in classrooms and out-of-school settings. LinkEngineering provides the first-ever platform for K-12 teachers and informal educators to work and learn as a community toward the goal of improving the reach and quality of U.S. precollege engineering education.

The NAE project is motivated by the increasing prevalence of PreK-12 engineering education in the United States. Compared with science and mathematics, engineering has had a limited presence in PreK-12 curriculum. However, efforts to highlight the field have steadily increased over the past 15 years. Further impetus for the LinkEngineering project is the recent publication of the Next Generation Science Standards, which create new expectations for science teachers to connect science learning with engineering design.

More information about LinkEngineering can be found at: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/stem-workforce-development/

 

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