AVS Historical Persons | Bill Rogers - 2007

Bill Rogers - 2007

Oral History Interview with Bill Rogers

Interviewed by Paul Holloway, October 16, 2007
 
HOLLOWAY: Today is Tuesday, October 16, 2007, and we're at the 54th Annual AVS meeting in Seattle, Washington. I have the pleasure of interviewing today Bill Rogers, one of the people who has been very active within the AVS and has served with the IUVSTA arm of international vacuum organizations. So Bill, it's a pleasure, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed today.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me, Paul.

HOLLOWAY: So to get us started, how about giving us a little bit about your background and educational experiences?

ROGERS: Okay. My background is I was trained as a chemist. I received my bachelor's from the University of Texas at Austin and went on to get a Ph.D. under Mike White in physical chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.

HOLLOWAY: I heard the sad news recently that Mike had passed away.

ROGERS: He did. What an untimely passing, too. 

HOLLOWAY: That's terrible.

ROGERS: He was really a tremendous human being and a great educator and a fine scientist, too. He was like a second father to me and many other of his students. I think he had 45 students and almost an equal number of post docs, over 100 people that he had a profound influence on.

HOLLOWAY: That's a tremendous accomplishment and a large sphere of influence and he cast a big shadow.

ROGERS: He really did.

HOLLOWAY: So, let's continue with your background.

ROGERS: Okay. So I graduated from his group in 1979 with my Ph.D., and immediately went to work at Sandia National Laboratories, where I stayed for 12 years.

HOLLOWAY: In Albuquerque?

ROGERS: In Albuquerque. In fact, I believe I was interviewed initially for the job that you vacated at Sandia. [Laughter] But I couldn't fill your shoes, so they lured me over to a weapons group.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, you were lucky I quit! [Laughter] 

ROGERS: But before that, there was something I wanted to mention, and I'll come back to it later and that's my long association with the city of San Francisco. I joined the AVS and went to my first meeting and gave my first scientific paper in 1978 at the AVS meeting in San Francisco. I arrived there the day that Dan White, a city councilman, murdered Mayor George Moscone and one of his colleagues, Harvey Milk. So that was my first introduction to San Francisco. Later, I was an organizer of the International Vacuum Congress held in San Francisco in 2001 maybe ten days after the 9/11 tragedy. So it's been a rough go in San Francisco for the AVS.

HOLLOWAY: So that's something you would prefer to avoid.

ROGERS: Hey, I'm a little nervous about going back.

HOLLOWAY: You weren't here during the earthquake in San Francisco.

ROGERS: No, I missed that. I was here in Seattle. [Laughter] But anyway, I joined Sandia National Laboratories and tried to apply what I'd learned about surface chemistry to some problems they were having with energetic materials - explosives and pyrotechnics. One of the things that was a real perk to my job at Sandia was the fantastic local New Mexico Chapter of the AVS. I think that the '70s and the '80s were certainly golden years scientifically in a lot of ways, and New Mexico was really poised to make a huge contribution not only scientifically but also to the proliferation of knowledge about vacuum science and technology. We had two national laboratories with major budgets on the order of $1 billion each at that time and some very large physics projects, the Meson Physics Facility at Los Alamos and some others, and the Particle Beam Facility 1 and 2 at Sandia, all of which required enormous vacuum resources. As a result of that, we had an opportunity to train vacuum technicians which we took advantage of because, at the time, there wasn't a way to learn that field except by on the job training. We had a very strong interaction with vendors since there was a lot of money being spent on equipment at Los Alamos and Sandia, and we developed a very vibrant short course program. A lot of credit goes to Len Beavis, who was one of the early pioneers in developing short courses.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, Warren Taylor and Jerry Nelson and all those guys.

ROGERS: All those guys, absolutely. The other thing we had was the weapons complex. The three weapons labs had their own standards, if you'll recall, and as a result, Warren Taylor and those guys had a vacuum standards lab that was second to none as far as the latest technology in calibration and gauging. Anyway, it was just a fabulous opportunity.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, AVS and some of the professional societies like that were well supported by the management at Sandia. I thought they were quite supportive in terms of organizing and contributing time and effort and energy.

ROGERS: They really were, and I think that probably one of the big reasons for that was the human resource issue and getting people out there that were trained to do that. The other thing that was really spectacular about what came together at that time was we had a really, really strong surface science component mainly at Sandia, somewhat at Los Alamos. Both the analytical aspects of it and the basic science aspects of surface science were things that were important to the mission of the laboratory at the time, and they of course had a heavy vacuum requirement.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, I know that surface and other sciences were supported by the divisional activities in the AVS.

ROGERS: That's right.

HOLLOWAY: So it was very synergistic.

ROGERS: It was, and it remained. They were golden years until we got into the conflict of who was going to be responsible for short courses - national or the strong chapters. If you'll recall, the Florida Chapter being right in there with them.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, that's true. That conflict did take place. I think it was resolved, but probably not to everybody's satisfaction.

ROGERS: No, but I think it was for the best for AVS the way we did it.

HOLLOWAY: It wound up with national being in charge of most of the short courses.

ROGERS: They did, but there was plenty of room for the chapters to continue teaching at a different level.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Well, and a lot of the short courses originated out of the New Mexico Chapter. They actually first tested them locally, and then national picked them up and made them a national course.

ROGERS: Much of the monograph series originated out of New Mexico also. It became a very successful program. So anyway, I was just glad that I happened to end up at the right place at the right time - I got very interested in the AVS and have remained so ever since.

HOLLOWAY: So you stayed in New Mexico at Sandia for 12 years. Then?

ROGERS: I did. I left in 1990 to join the faculty in Chemical Engineering, which I wasn't trained in, at the University of Washington here in Seattle. We had a very strong local chapter here also, one which transcended the "Cascade Curtain." We had the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and we had the university academic structure here in the Seattle area. Down the coast and across the border in Oregon, we had all the big semiconductor manufacturers: Intel, Sharp Microelectronics, Hewlett Packard - a bunch of them. I think the reason they started in Oregon was because of some tax advantages they had down there. But they quickly ran into the same problem we had at Sandia - they just did not have the talent to maintain those fabs. We were teaching as fast as we could down there to try to retrain retired Navy technicians and others to work on the lines in those facilities.

HOLLOWAY: Most of those meetings were held down in the Portland area?

ROGERS: Well, we kind of went back and forth, but probably two out of three were held down there. Every few years we'd have one up here or over in the Tri-Cities area. One of the things you asked me about earlier was my interest in barbecue. When I left Texas, which was true barbecue country where I went to school...

HOLLOWAY: That's true barbecue, alright.

ROGERS: When I moved to Albuquerque, I didn't particularly like the barbecue in Albuquerque, so I made my own pit - I think it was in 1981 - and started doing barbecues for AVS functions. I've been doing them ever since. In fact, my son took over and did one for the Pacific Northwest Chapter in 2006.

HOLLOWAY: So you're a true teacher here - you trained your son to do those barbeques!

ROGERS: At least that. [Laughter] 

HOLLOWAY: Well, your barbecues are famous here. Everybody understands when they come to your barbecue they'd better take a short-sleeve shirt because it's good enough to get up to your elbows.

ROGERS: It is, and I still love doing it, especially for fun groups that enjoy it.

HOLLOWAY: So you moved here to Washington and to the University of Washington.

ROGERS: I did, and I started teaching in a Chemical Engineering Department. I established a research program in thin film deposition of mainly III-V dielectric materials - aluminum nitride and others - and the chemical engineering aspects of the initial stages of film growth - how you transition from an interface into a bulk material with the properties that you want or at least a thicker film. Anyway, it was a really interesting switch for me to use techniques I had used in basic research for more applied applications. I stayed at the University of Washington for almost ten years, and then I took a look at my career and figured I might have ten good years left and decided I wanted to have have a bigger impact than I could have as an individual contributor at the university, which had been very rewarding. I certainly enjoyed it; I had a nice size group at the University. I thought I might be able to achieve a bigger impact with the DOE, so I joined the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

HOLLOWAY: Which program/department did you join?

ROGERS: Well, I ran, for a very short time, one of the five research directorates in the EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory, which was brand new at the time, just a couple of years old.

HOLLOWAY: Was Charlie Duke there at that time?

ROGERS: No, he had just left, actually. Mike Knotek and Charlie left right before they opened it, and Jean Futrell was the director. He was the first director. I guess Tom Dunning served as interim director for a short time in between. At any rate, there was very quickly a change in management structure and a position opened up, and I became the ALD (Associate Laboratory Director) for fundamental science about eight months after I got there.

HOLLOWAY: Is that right? They recognized your talent, I guess.

ROGERS: Well, I don't know about that, but it was great opportunity for me. I ended up having the EMSL in my group. It is a great cadre of surface scientists and chemical physicists there. Plus, they have some other things that are really interesting and unique, like the world's biggest NMR for doing biology, 900 MHz. And a truly a world-class mass spectrometry capability for doing proteomics and metabolomics.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Good people supported by good equipment.

ROGERS: Yeah, and we had - I mean, we weren't rolling in money, but it was well-supported by the Department of Energy. When I was involved, we had a $33M operations budget which
we escalated to almost $40M - this was just to provide the user services for EMSL, which is a national scientific user facility. DOE really knows how to run a user facility.

HOLLOWAY: Now, did you interact from that associate laboratory director's position with the AVS and their training activities, etc.?

ROGERS: I did. I continued to teach short courses, and I think I've served on every committee the AVS has ever had in some capacity.

HOLLOWAY: Even the clean-up committee, right? [Laughter] 

ROGERS: But you know, while I was there, I believe we hosted two meetings here in Seattle, and I was the local arrangements chair for one of them and then I did the IVC (International Vacuum Congress), which was joint with the AVS in San Francisco in 2001. I was general program chair during that time period in San Francisco.

HOLLOWAY: Let's talk about that IVC in San Francisco. Give me some of the details on the impact of the 9/11 tragedy.

ROGERS: There were two things that happened. And of course, 9/11 overshadowed everything. But two things happened to make that meeting in some sense a disaster of its own, a financial disaster.

HOLLOWAY: It was a truly financial disaster for the AVS.

ROGERS: It was, and that was partly because of the 9/11 incident and how difficult travel became at that time, particularly for foreign attendees coming into the U.S. So we had a huge program planned and 9/11 hit and we had a record number of no-shows just because people couldn't get to the U.S. to give their papers.

HOLLOWAY: Do you remember what percentage of that were foreign speakers? Was it 50% or 40%?

ROGERS: It was a lot. I don't remember. It was joint IVC, and so by design, we tried to make it have a much larger international flavor.

HOLLOWAY: My guess would be at least 50%.

ROGERS: I'm guessing it was even higher than that. I think it was probably 60%. I remember in particular from Japan we had a record number of papers - 450 papers or something.

HOLLOWAY: Particularly on the West Coast with San Francisco, yeah.

ROGERS: Yeah, the Pacific Rim sort of supports science venues where they can get to easily. But at any rate, the other thing that contributed to that the financial disaster is we had some changes in the New York office, and without naming any names, we had a large block of hotel rooms at a very expensive hotel that, as an oversight, were not cancelled in a timely fashion when we realized that we could not fill the rooms. This was before 9/11; it didn't have anything to do with that. We just knew we weren't going to be able to fill that block, which were very expensive in a hotel associated with the Marriott, which was the main hotel. Anyway, they held us to our room count, so we lost $250,000 or something like that in revenue. It ended up not being quite that bad, but that's what it looked like for a long time.

HOLLOWAY: Boy, that's tough to handle that level of a room load.

ROGERS: It was our fault, strictly.

HOLLOWAY: Well, the program was quite good. The people that did attend that complimented you on that program, I remember.

ROGERS: It was very good. We had two Nobel Prize Laureates who did show up, and it was a good program.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. It was amazing how many people actually wound up being able to travel even under the circumstances.

ROGERS: Yeah, and the traveling, if you'll recall, was just awful. Remember the lines and you couldn't even pull your car into an airport. They had them all blocked off.

HOLLOWAY: If you sat there more than five seconds, they started yelling at you.

ROGERS: That's right. It was very inconvenient, very inconvenient. But at any rate, the program went on and it was a very good technical program. We learned a lot from that. I think that the other thing that in my opinion that's happened that is probably natural but not really good is that we have to continue to struggle with our money-making programs in the society. I think we sort of peaked out back in the mid-'80s as far as membership and the interest in the vendor show, which was a big money-maker.

HOLLOWAY: Right. Fabs aren't going up as fast nowadays as they used to.

ROGERS: And you know, as those were on the rise, they needed a different kind of equipment and AVS wasn't really the proper venue for a lot of that. The Pittsburgh conference and some of these other conferences were really better venues for those vendors. Conferences like SemiCon here and abroad. And of course, we're not seeing our short course program grow - there's not as much need for it as there once was, or at least it's perceived that way.

HOLLOWAY: No, there's not as much enrollment. That's absolutely clear.

ROGERS: Yeah, absolutely.

HOLLOWAY: Whether there's the need or not...

ROGERS: Yeah. I was looking for another word. [Laughter] That's right.

HOLLOWAY: But the enrollment is certainly not there today. Training is down everywhere.

ROGERS: It is, and I don't think it's the fact that we're not delivering the right product. I think it's just that people are being trained elsewhere for whatever reason.

HOLLOWAY: Or not being trained at all.

ROGERS: Or not being trained at all.

HOLLOWAY: I think that training is one of the soft budget activities that go on in a company, and is one of the first to go.

ROGERS: And it's probably the worst thing that you could possibly cut, because professional development of human capital. Well, you know if you look at the trends that we have in modern society where people don't stay at a place for more than five years and then move on, I guess corporately you think, "Why should we train them if they're not going to be here anyway? We might as well use them for what we can get out of them - jettison them and get somebody else." But I think that that may come around - at least I've seen it in the national lab structure where we're spending a lot more time on professional development of our young staff, and training is a very important part of that, meticulous training.

HOLLOWAY: Now, after the IVC, you moved into the IUVSTA (International Union of Vacuum Science, Technique and Application) structure. Could you give us a little bit of a description as to what IUVSTA is and how it associates with and impacts AVS?

ROGERS: I can. IUVSTA is a society of societies, and its sole purpose is to promote vacuum technology and related areas. It was created when several national vacuum societies (the AVS being one of them) came together to form a union, an international union, to promote this area of science and technology, and I think that it started either in the very late 1950s or the very early 1960s. I just can't remember.

HOLLOWAY: About the same time the AVS started.

ROGERS: Yeah, it did. The AVS was a founding member of the IUVSTA. And it had a different name which was changed a year or two later. But the important point is that there are now 33 national professional societies that have joined IUVSTA, which stands for International Union of Vacuum Science, Technique and Application. The structure still has the same goals, and in fact, I just took over as President of it for a three-year term earlier this summer in July 2007.

HOLLOWAY: Congratulations.

ROGERS: Well, thank you. I wonder if I made the right choice, but unfortunately, the decision was made three years ago. It's a nine-year hitch.

HOLLOWAY: I'm sure it will be an interesting experience for you.

ROGERS: But we're doing some strategic planning for the first time since I've been involved, and what's coming out of this is that we were trying to do some things that were competing with the national societies and getting away from our original charter. We're going to get back to our roots, which is to promote vacuum science and disseminate scientific knowledge in those areas by a variety of methods. We host conferences; we sponsor workshops; we have five-day schools on hot topics very similar to the topical conference program started in the AVS. 

One of the secondary goals is to try to create new societies where there are interested parties in nations with emerging economies and scientific programs. We're concentrating on specific places in Asia, which is very strong in some areas but not so strong in others, and particularly in South America. I think that's a really important aspect of the IUVSTA. The problem with it is - well, let me first tell you little bit about the governance. There's a set of elected officers, and then there's a counsellor from each of the 33 member societies that constitutes an executive committee which is the decision-making body. Part of the problem is that we're dispersed all over the globe. We meet twice a year in committee and we operate on a triennial basis, and once every triennium we have a big international conference. There are some smaller international conferences associated with some of the divisions, such as the International Conference on Thin Films, and generally those have been very well attended. We're making an effort to have the venues for these conferences in areas which are emerging scientifically, such as in China. The next international vacuum congress in 2010 will be in Beijing.

HOLLOWAY: It will make the travel easier for the local persons.

ROGERS: Certainly. And we do a lot of things that are regional. We have some conferences that are just designed for Australia, Japan, Taiwan - you know, the southeast Pacific area. At any rate, we're trying to get back to our roots, and I think that there's a need for this Union. The way that it interacts with the AVS is that the AVS is a member society. We have counsellors. We also, because we're such a prominent society, have a very large representation on the divisional committees and structure. So we have a lot of influence on IUVSTA.

HOLLOWAY: Now does the AVS provide monetary support for IUVSTA?

ROGERS: It does in the form of shares; it's very modest. That's one of the problems with the Union. Besides governing this behemoth, we don't have a lot of money to work with. Our revenue sources are the shares, which are about $80,000 a triennium and we have a donation from the International Vacuum Congress every triennium; that's about $50,000.

HOLLOWAY: As long as they run a profit - kind of like San Francisco, huh?

ROGERS: Yes. That's the only one that hasn't, but the AVS made good on that. You know, we've seen a trend here for the AVS National Symposium to become more and more international. It's changed its name and, in coming up the escalator today, I was just amazed at the number of people that are from outside the U.S. that attend this meeting. It truly is international.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. We have a large fraction of our attendees that are foreign nationals.

ROGERS: Absolutely. So there's a little bit of competition there, but I think in general, the AVS works pretty well together with the IUVSTA. The AVS (which remember includes Canada) is very important to IUVSTA. It would not exist as it is now if North America didn't support it. So it's a very important activity. 

HOLLOWAY: So do they have a journal and proceedings and that sort of thing?

ROGERS: We have had in the past. We continue to have proceedings from the smaller meetings, but for the international meetings, we have moved to virtual proceedings. We sort of pioneered that effort along with the AVS at the 2001 meeting, in fact. I think it's had mixed success and I don't know if it's worth the effort, quite honestly. But you know, we've seen tremendous changes in the publication business here, too. I was very involved with publications for the AVS when we started going electronic. I was publications chair for AVS when AIP started down the electronic publications path. There's still a lot of heartburn and growing pains associated with that process.

HOLLOWAY: But that's put us in a good position. Your movement in that direction actually reduced the cost for producing the Journal of Vacuum Science Technology, and that's really what's gotten it back above board, above water level again.

ROGERS: What a difficult process, though. [Laughter] 

HOLLOWAY: Not everybody could see the wisdom of your foresight, huh?

ROGERS: Well, no. It wasn't just me. I just happened to be in there at the time when a lot of this was taking place. Steve Rossnagel really got the ball rolling. Then he stepped aside and I took it for a while, and Greg Exarhos has done a fantastic job in this position, in my opinion. But you notice that every time we try to do something radically different, like add a new part of the journal or change a major format, it's always a very painful, two- or three-year process it seems like. And another comment that I'd like to make which has always just tickled me about the AVS structure and the Board of Directors and how it operates is where we spend our time worrying about financial decisions. In the old days, we would pass the JVST budget, which was $1 million plus budget every year, with three minutes of discussion, and then we'd argue over whether to raise the student dues by $5, which was going to generate about $1,500. [Laughter] As a society, we'd argue for two hours over that. It's got a good dynamic in those circles, you know.

HOLLOWAY: Well, another big issue that you were a participant in, I remember, is the name change from American Vacuum Society to the AVS. That generated a lot of smoke and a little bit of fire, too.

ROGERS: Yeah, it sure did, and all because of this perception that we wanted to get away from being "Hoover" salesmen, you know? 

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

ROGERS: Anyway, those decisions probably ought to be painful decisions to make. When you change something that big, it ought to be well-vetted.

HOLLOWAY: Well, you have to give the people and the diversity of opinions credit because once you've come to a common decision, then you can go forward.

ROGERS: Absolutely. But it's really hard to reach consensus on something like that. In fact, I don't think you ever do, but you just have to do the best you can and get as many people on board as possible. And usually, I've seen even the most vocal opponents, once those changes are made, they're perfectly happy with it. It always sounds like it's going to be worse than it is.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Well after you went to Pacific Northwest National Lab, you changed your location once again.

ROGERS: One more time. I work for a charitable trust called the Battelle Memorial Institute out of Ohio that has partnered over the last 20 years with other big corporations to build a business in running national laboratories for the U.S. DOE. Battelle now runs or is a partner in running Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which they've run since its original contract in 1963, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, part of NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), and the most recent acquisition was Idaho National Laboratory. Battelle just got a contract awarded to run part of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

HOLLOWAY: Is that right?

ROGERS: We're a minor partner there; Bechtel is the big partner. And Battelle runs some non-DOE labs such as the new National & Homeland Security Laboratory at Fort Dietrich and several others; we're about to get in the business of running some labs overseas, which will be interesting.

HOLLOWAY: For foreign countries or...?

ROGERS: For foreign countries, including a national lab, the first national lab in the United Kingdom associated with nuclear, and possibly in Malaysia and in South Korea. So at any rate, this is all the brainchild of a guy named Bill Madia, who just retired from Battelle, but he is a master at taking talent from one lab and using it at another lab to build a new management team. He asked me to join the bid team for the Idaho National Laboratory, which was a real challenge for me because I'm a chemist/chemical engineer and this is a nuclear laboratory. But they're looking for a strong science base in chemistry and chemical engineering, so it's been a great opportunity. I've been there about two and a half years.

HOLLOWAY: So what is your exact position there?

ROGERS: I'm the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Environment S&T, one of three research groups at the laboratory. The other two are Nuclear S&T and National and Homeland Security S&T. The types of energy we do research and development on in our organization is predominantly clean, non-nuclear energy.

HOLLOWAY: Sounds like a challenging position.

ROGERS: It is. The way DOE structured this lab was to take an old existing lab, the Idaho National Energy and Environmental Lab (INEEL), roughly split it down the middle, and take half of the folks and put them on the clean-up contract out on the site where we have a lot of legacy waste from our nuclear weapons program and from the Navy nuclear propulsion program. They combined the other half with the old Argonne National Laboratory-West, to build the new Idaho National Laboratory. It's about 3,800 people and we've done phenomenally well to date. We took over in February 2005 and we were a $585 million lab that year, and in 2006 we were $680 million, and in 2007 we were $720 million. So you're seeing phenomenal growth.

HOLLOWAY: And that's been allocated between fundamental science and engineering and environmental clean-up?

ROGERS: Not much environmental clean-up. That's mainly done by the clean-up contractor and they have their own budget. But we still preserve a lot of capability in that area, which can be used for other things. The fundamental understanding you need to deal with most of the DOE legacy waste is in two areas. For the waste we stored in tanks, the strategy is to retrieve the waste, separate out the high-level component, vitrify it into glass logs, and stick it into the WIPP or Yucca Mountain site one of these days. The waste that we foolishly dumped or buried into shallow trenches, needs to be retrieved, repackaged and sent to WIPP. But what has leaked out of the tanks into the vadose zone, or been leached out of the shallow trenches, also must be dealt with. This involves subsurface fate and transport of waste components and we have a lot of expertise in that area. It turns out those same skills can be used to help Chevron and Shell extract oil from shale in Colorado and Utah and from tar sands in Alberta. So there's a lot of need for this type of expertise.

HOLLOWAY: There have been an amazing number of talks that I've heard yesterday and today here at the 54th Annual National Meeting about energy and non-petroleum-based energy supplies, none of them being nuclear. What's your opinion in terms of the future prospects for a larger contribution to energy supplies from nuclear?

ROGERS: Well, I think there's no doubt that it's coming. Everybody including the former head of Green Peace is jumping on the bandwagon. When you look at the consequences of burning coal in China or India and what we're doing to our environment, I think that there are a couple of things that are driving this. One is the realization and the acceptance that global warming is real and here and that it is caused by anthropogenic sources of CO2. Everybody believes that there's no doubt that the increased CO2 leads to changes or will lead to changes in the Earth's temperature, and I think people want to stop that from getting any worse. The other thing that's driven it is the fact that oil has been above $50 a barrel sustained now for almost two years and no hope that it's ever going to go back. So the days of cheap energy are gone, and that opens up a lot of possibilities for different alternate fuels and alternate renewables that weren't economically feasible two years ago. 

If you look at nuclear in particular, nuclear is an interesting concept. You know, we stopped our nuclear program in the late '70s. Jimmy Carter stopped it and we really never restarted. We haven't had a new plant start since the late '70s. We still have 104 light water nuclear plants in the U.S. that produce about 20% or our electricity. Curiously, we also have 112 naval reactors powering our submarines and aircraft carriers. There's never been a nuclear accident or incident that's killed a single person in this country. There was actually one death at Idaho on a very, very early test reactor (1963) and many people think that was a suicide. Nonetheless, nobody was killed or even hurt at Three-Mile Island. Chernobyl was a disaster, but that never would have happened in the U.S. The U.S. has actually converted (and paid for) every one of the Russian reactors of that design to prevent an accident from happening again. And yet, nuclear has a public perception of being the worst thing that you can ever imagine. The waste problems are technologically solvable; there's no doubt about that - it's the public perception regarding safety that is difficult to deal with.

HOLLOWAY: But they haven't been solved. Why not?

ROGERS: Well, they have been solved. It's just that our government or our citizenry haven't had the political will to open Yucca Mountain  -  Harry Reid has blocked long-term disposition of those materials.

HOLLOWAY: Everybody says we can do it, but "not in my backyard."

ROGERS: Exactly. That's exactly what they say. We'll get around that, eventually I think. We do a lot of work in support of opening Yucca Mountain. The U.S. has spent $9 billion characterizing that site.

HOLLOWAY: Well, there's Yucca Mountain and there's the WIPP facility down in New Mexico.

ROGERS: Mm-hmm [yes]. WIPP is open, and we're sending material there every day. There was a time when I never thought we would open WIPP, but eventually we did. I've been to the Yucca Mountain facility. The groundwater is 2,100 feet below the repository such as it is, moving at a centimeter every ten years and where it dumps out, there's nothing there. If there was ever a place to put this type of waste, this is it. Now with the U.S. starting to reprocess or at least talking about it, we've got the opportunity to make that repository a 300- or 400-year repository as opposed to a 10,000-year repository, which has been one of the big problems with opening it because nobody believes any predictions 10,000 years out including me.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, it's pretty tough to believe that they're going to be 100% accurate.

ROGERS: It is, and so what are the risks in case they're not?

HOLLOWAY: And what's the alternative?

ROGERS: Right. But there are ways to make it a 400-year repository, which we could deal with. I think the public would believe sound scientific evidence of what could happen and would happen over that timeframe. But I'll tell you an even bigger looming problem, and I'd like to go hear the talk on it here in a few minutes, is CO2 capture and sequestration. The nuclear waste problem pales in comparison to the amount of CO2 we're talking about putting underground and the technological challenges of making sure it stays there.

HOLLOWAY: Well, and the energy it costs to get it into that condition...

ROGERS: Absolutely, and the regulatory mess. Who owns the rights down there - the rights to where they're going to store it? So to return to your original question, I do believe that we will see a lot of different types of energy, and I think that the trick we're going to be faced with is coming up with not only a portfolio of energy sources but also hybrid systems that involve say nuclear, unconventional hydrocarbon such as oil shale, and perhaps even a bio or renewable component to reduce the carbon footprint. The main thing that we have to do is we've got to get the right energy to the right place at the right time. It's not all about electricity. It's not all about transportation fuels. It's whatever the end user needs. We need to make sure that we get things to that group efficiently and effectively; we need effective carbon life-cycle management in a much broader sense than just CO2 capture and sequestration. We've got to manage our carbon much better - it is after all, a finite resource.

HOLLOWAY: Well, it's going to be interesting to see what role the AVS can play in that whole thing, but just having the discussion like at this meeting is certainly a contribution to the area.

ROGERS: Well, I'll tell you one thing. We're not going to get there without technologies that we don't have right now, and I think the AVS could have a tremendous role in it - in nanoscience, for instance, catalysts. Part of the trick to solving the carbon management problem is getting away from the water-gas shift reaction, and to do that, you've got to have gasification technologies and a non-carbon source of hydrogen and you need a better Fisher-Tropsch process. There's a lot of room for technology, and we're going to have to have it to solve this problem. So I think that there's going to be a lot of opportunity and we ought to make sure we're right in the middle of it.

HOLLOWAY: We've covered a lot of territory here today. Do you have anything you'd like to add to the interview?

ROGERS: No, except to say that I love this society. You know I've been a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers, and the Society for Biomaterials, but nothing has been as satisfying, as good for me, and as relevant for my career as the AVS. You can see that I've done a lot of different things over a 30-year career, and the AVS has been right at the center of all of them. It's been good to me and I want to give something back to it.

HOLLOWAY: I think that's what all of us feel - certainly that we've gotten a lot out and we want to make sure we give something back and try to have the opportunities for the young people to experience the same thing we experienced.

ROGERS: Absolutely, and it is a volunteer society and we've got to milk it while we can.

HOLLOWAY: Good.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me, Paul. Appreciate it.

HOLLOWAY: Thanks for doing it, Bill.

return to top