Updated: Oct 14, 2021
The Department of Energy manages the United States’ nuclear infrastructure and administers our country’s energy policy. It is responsible for advancing the energy, environmental, and nuclear security of the United States. The DoE also promotes scientific research and technological innovation in support of that mission at their world-class national laboratories.
Given the size and scope of this Federal Agency, how much do you know about the department’s history and reach? Here is a brief overview of the DoE’s history and a look into the department’s responsibilities.
The Department of Energy is one of the most interesting and diverse agencies in the Federal Government. It brings together two programs into one: defense responsibilities including design, construction, and testing of nuclear weapons and the loose knit mix of energy related programs of the Federal Government.
The DoE was created in 1977 and traces its lineage to the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project started with a letter from Albert Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt regarding the potential capabilities of nuclear chain reactions in 1939. After the end of World War II, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was created to take over the Manhattan Project’s scientific and industrial complex. The Atomic Energy Commission focused on designing and producing nuclear weapons and developing nuclear reactors for naval propulsion during the Cold War years. In 1954, the use of atomic energy extended to commercial nuclear power use, which was now overseen by the Atomic Energy Commission. Fun fact, the first academic research reactor in the world was the R-1 reactor, built by North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.
In the 1950s, the AEC started a series of projects to develop the peaceful use of atomic energy. One of the peaceful use programs was the distribution of radioisotopes for the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge. This initiative began the research of radioactive isotopes for the use of industrial and agricultural applications, biomedical field, cancer therapy, and radioactive tracers for biological processes.
Before the establishment of the Department of Energy, no overall energy policy existed. The energy crisis of the 1970’s forced the executive and legislative branches to seek a better way to coordinate Federal Energy policy. Also, as nuclear energy technologies developed, there was now a need to separate nuclear licensing and regulation functions from the development and production of nuclear power and weapons.
The Department of Energy was created in 1977 to bring together Federal energy activities under one umbrella and provide a framework for a cohesive national energy plan. The newly formed DoE undertook the responsibility of long-term, high-risk research and development of energy technology, Federal Power marketing, energy conservation, the nuclear weapons program, energy regulatory programs, and a central energy data collection and analysis program.
The roles and initiatives of the DoE have changed throughout the years. While the department was initially created for the purpose of developing and regulating energy sources, after the Cold War the DoE shifted its focus towards environmental clean-up of the nuclear weapons complex and nonproliferation and stewardship of the nuclear stockpile. Today, the department’s priority has been to ensure the nation’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through science and technology solutions.
The DoE’s current priorities are:
· Combating the Climate Crisis
· Creating Clean Energy Union Jobs
· Promoting Energy Justice
To accomplish these goals, the DoE operates the following agencies:
· Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
· Public Affairs
· Energy Information Administration
· Office of Environmental Management
· Office of Fossil Energy
· National Laboratories
· National Nuclear Security Administration
· Office of Nuclear Energy
· Power Administrations
· Science Office
· Federal Energy Regulatory Commission