With two years of action under its belt, the Kleinman Center thrives at Penn

As talk looms around the United States about prematurely closing and decommissioning nuclear power plants, so do the potential public policy problems associated with the process. 
A recent Kleinman Center for Energy Policy report details some of these issues, specifically regarding the radioactive waste that may, unless action is taken, be stored indefinitely at each of these retired U.S. plants instead of at a promised, single geological disposal site. This, as explained by author Christina Simeone in the paper, “Nuclear Decommissioning: Paying More for Greater, Uncompensated Risks,” increases risks, while also bearing twice the financial burden for many taxpayers. And these risks and costs associated with decommissioning have not been widely addressed.
“This paper raises a red flag because these issues need to be thought through before many of these plants are shut down,” says Mark Alan Hughes, the Center’s faculty director and a School of Design professor.
“Nuclear waste disposal is an international problem that has proved very challenging to solve,” adds Cornelia “Cory” Colijn, the Center’s deputy director.
The report has spurred a new collaboration between Simeone, the Center’s director of policy and external affairs, and Jose Miguel Abito, a Wharton School assistant professor of business economics and public policy, who are in the early stages of trying to quantify the risk to the surrounding communities near decommissioned plants.
This type of fresh thinking—and the multidisciplinary action surrounding it—is what makes the two-year-old Kleinman Center thrive.
Both Hughes, founding director of sustainability for Philadelphia and former chief policy adviser to Mayor Michael Nutter, and Colijn, with a background in geoscience, and their team of four additional full-time staffers and a slew of student research assistants have been boosting the Center since its inception in 2014. Its creation was made possible thanks to a five-year, $10 million gift from Scott Kleinman, a Penn alumnus, and his wife Wendy. 
The Center, housed in PennDesign, and located on the fourth floor of the iconic Fisher Fine Arts Library, is meant to be a teaching and event space for faculty, staff, and students throughout the University, as well as a short-term home for visiting scholars and thought leaders in energy.
The Center works with faculty members across the entire University to raise the visibility and impact of Penn research on energy policy problems, as well as fund more of this kind of research at Penn. The Center also brings scholars and those working in the field from all over the world to the University to collaborate with Penn researchers.
As a resource to students, the Center offers an internship program, a graduate-level certificate program, and a grants program.
The Center also has its own policy interests on which it conducts sustained work. 
“Our publications that we generate here, they are tailored, scoped, and sized for policy audiences,” says Hughes. “We focus a lot of our work into a short form; something that’s readable, timely, and cuts through to the simple on a complex topic, with the intent of getting it into the hands of policymakers.”
The Center is in fairly regular conversations with city and state administrations, Hughes says, on their policy agendas involving energy, economic development, environmental protection, and more.
Overall, Hughes says, the overarching research agenda for the Center has been on energy transition, or “this shift from one energy system that has all kinds of uncompensated costs and scary outcomes to one that can really be sustainable in every sense of that word.”
Thinking about the way energy transition will happen requires a “very Penn quality,” Hughes says. “You have to know what Wharton knows, what Penn Law knows, what Penn Engineering knows, what PennDesign knows, in order to take seriously this ‘how we’re going to do it’ question. It’s the most critical missing piece in the current debate and that’s where we want to play.”
Right now, the Center maintains largely informal relationships with the faculty it works with, which is why, in the future, Hughes and Colijn hope to establish a set of affiliated faculty from across the University at the Center. 
“I think the opportunity is now there to deepen those connections and really start to gather and leverage a multi-school energy faculty at Penn in a more structured way,” Hughes says. 
In the meantime, Hughes and Colijn are gearing up for the Center’s annual Carnot Prize, named in memory of French scientist Sadi Carnot, who in 1824 published “Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire,” which became the basis for the second law of thermodynamics and explored the revolutionary impact of energy on society. Slated to take place on Thursday, Nov. 17, the Center will honor Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), for his distinguished contributions to energy policy.
At the Penn event, Birol will present the IEA’s 2016 World Energy Outlook, released the day before in London, and give the first U.S. press conference for the new version of the influential annual report.
“Dr. Birol’s visit to Penn sums up how visible, after just two years, the Kleinman Center has become in this world of energy policy research,” Hughes says.