The US Senate just voted unanimously to confirm a new Energy Secretary for the country. Ernest Moniz, a 68-year-old nuclear physicist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will take on the role of the head of the Energy Department, reporting directly to President Obama, who nominated him for the job after the previous Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, resigned earlier this year, saying he wanted to return to academic life. The job puts Moniz in charge of everything from the development of new energy startups, to helping fund new battery research and electric vehicle companies (Tesla Motors was started by a previous Energy Department loan), to managing the safety of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy in the US.
The latter point is of special interest because Moniz, in contrast to his predecessor, is an advocate for more nuclear power. In the wake of the Fukushima reactor meltdown in Japan in 2011, Moniz wrote an article in The Atlantic calling for the US government to approve a type of smaller, cheaper nuclear reactor. He also supports increased usage of natural gas, which produces lower emissions than oil or coal, and he led an energy research initiative at MIT that was funded by oil and gas companies, leading other scientists to express concern that he was too close to these types of companies to be an effective Energy Secretary.
"Dr. Moniz is a world-class scientist."
Still, President Obama gave his strong endorsement for Moniz again today, releasing a statement saying in part: "Dr. Moniz is a world-class scientist ... He also shares my conviction that the United States must lead the world in developing more sustainable sources of energy that create new jobs and new industries, and in responding to the threat of global climate change." The Senate appears to be in agreement.