#AdvancingNuclear took over Twitter yesterday
If you gather enough nuclear nerds and atomic geeks into a single location and include some talented professional communications experts, it’s possible to make a social media splash and capture attention – at least for a short period of time.
That is one of the lessons I learned yesterday while attending Third Way’s Advanced Nuclear Summit and contributing tweets that included the #AdvancingNuclear hashtag. It was a heady experience to see the volume of clever or informative micro blog posts (tweets) and to find out that we were near the top of the “trending” list.
By the end of the event, Suzy Hobbs-Baker, who was manning the event’s “Reactor Room” reported that #AdvancingNuclear had earned 7.5 million impressions and reached 1.5 million people. That conversation continues so the tally’s will expand over the next few days.
Aside: As an active #AdvancingNuclear contributor and conversation follower, I also learned a somewhat discouraging Twitter lesson. There are automated accounts that seize popular hashtags and add them to advertising or spam tweets that then contaminate a hashtag feed.
After deeper thinking, I guess that is simply a restatement of an old lesson – you get what you pay for. “Free” services can come with unexpected costs. End Aside.
Impressive event attendance
The room in the event space at the Newseum was at or slightly above the capacity limit. It was an impressive, invitation-only crowd that included Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Senators and Representatives (some of whom attended in person and others who came in via the screens), corporate CEOs, venture capitalists, high level career government service professionals, former NRC commissioners, the current NRC Chairman, university professors, philanthropists, non-profit leaders and thought leaders.
There was a palpable level of enthusiasm in the room, part of which was stoked by the knowledge that one of the leading companies, NuScale Power, had met its promised milestone of submitting a design certification application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of 2016.
Many of the people in the room were familiar faces; they’ve been at some, many or even all of the numerous meetings, conferences, summits and workshops on the topic of advanced and smaller nuclear that I’ve attended during the past decade.
I spoke to people from Lightbridge, Terrestrial Energy, GE Prism, Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium, ANS, NRC, X-Energy, Nuclear Matters, The Clean Air Task Force, Bloomberg, The New Fire, Oklo, State Department, Global American Business Institute (GABI), INL, ANL and Third Way. I’m sure there were dozens of organizations with whom I failed to connect.
It’s obvious that interest remains high in the field, but the paths toward achieving real products are long, winding and littered with obstacles of various sizes and strengths. There are still action items that have been under discussion since advanced and smaller reactors entered the collective consciousness ten years ago.
Fortunately, though NuScale is the first project to hit an official milestone that shows definitive progress, there are numerous other projects that are taking positive steps and making real advancements towards their goals. It is also exciting to see growing political support that includes cost sharing programs, access to government owned testing and computer facilities, government material databases, efforts to streamline approval processes and a recognition that advancing nuclear technology plays into numerous American commercial and security interests.
How does the established nuclear industry feel about the people pushing for changes?
The established nuclear industry had a substantial presence at the event, with a kickoff speech by Chris Crane, the CEO of Exelon, the largest nuclear plant operator in the US, participation by the Southern Company, also a major operator and one of the two companies that is building large, third generation light water reactors in the Southeast U.S. and the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Maria Korsnick’s participation in the final panel.
They emphasized that there are many strengths in the current industry that need to be carried through to advanced nuclear energy developments, despite the current challenges to the fleet as a result of the flawed market designs in many service territories. U.S. nuclear plants have an impressive operating history with two decades in which the average capacity factor of the fleet was near or above 90%. Outage schedules are challenging, but regularly achieve new records in duration by practice, refinement and high quality workmanship.
The established nuclear industry can be a strong partner for the more entrepreneurial advanced reactor developers. They should not engage in fratricide or destructive efforts to find buses under which to throw their potential partners because they fear the competition that actually strengthens both.
Nick Irvin, Southern Company’s R&D Manager, Advanced Energy Systems, Research and Technology Management, explained why his company is so interested in both existing and advanced nuclear developments. They have a companywide mantra of feeling responsible for producing electricity that is Clean, Safe, Reliable and Affordable. All four are important. Nuclear energy is one of the few sources that has the potential to meet all of the key criteria for evaluating power systems. He concluded his remarks with the following statement.
“Nuclear energy is a key part of our future. We do not see any path forward that doesn’t echo that loudly. So if nuclear is going to be a key part of our future, are we going to embrace this idea of innovation and growth or are we going to stay put and rest on our laurels. Our country was founded by innovators, it would be an awful sad choice of ours if we decided to abandon that heritage when we have such great opportunity ahead of us.”
During her panel discussion, Ms. Korsnick addressed the “nuclear waste issue” that seems to come up in every political conversation about nuclear energy in a forthright, but creative way. She emphasized the value that advanced nuclear technologies can provide to the established fleet. She said “I would like to say that used fuel is future fuel, future fuel for some of these advanced technologies that we are looking at here today.”
Political climate implications
Not surprisingly, several of the conversations that I participated in or overheard were focused on speculation of policies that might be implemented and personnel that might be hired after key leadership positions have been filled. During one of the panels, a participant noted that he had not heard a single antinuclear comment from any of the leading figures in the Trump Administration. On the other hand, there have been few detailed pronuclear policies announced.
Several attendees at the event noted that the importance of advancing nuclear energy solutions is one of the few things that both major parties in the U. S. seem to agree on. There are numerous differences in the paths they have taken and the justifications they use to explain their current pronuclear positions, but there is a real and growing level of bipartisan support.
The days are long gone when politicians considered that expressing support for nuclear energy was a “third rail” that would result in defeat in the voting booths.
As one of the closing speakers, Senator Coons (D-DE) reminded the event attendees and the audience viewing via the live stream that Senators are open to discussions about technology and policy from people that they represent and whose opinions they respect.
“More than anything, we need your voice, we need your advocacy. Because what holds issues up on the prioritization list for Senators is hearing from folks they respect and value about things that are possible. Things that may not be widely covered in the press, things that may not be understood by most of our staff, but things that are a moment of opportunity and hopefulness.
I’ll close with a comment given by Jay Faison, the Founder and CEO of ClearPath Foundation. He told us that he had learned a few things as an entrepreneur and philanthropist with a deep interest in becoming a policy influencer in Washington. One is a phrase that is good for us all to keep in mind.
For those who support the need for nuclear energy technology development and deployment in the US, for whatever reason, the time is NOW. We need to move past anyone who attempts to claim it is “not now.”
Thanks for the summary. It was a great summit.
One thought on the last part of the article. It’s going to be hard to grow goodwill with non-nuclear people when the president says things like:
“You know what uranium is, right? It’s this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium. Including some bad things. But nobody talks about that.”
No doubt. I spoke to a member of the staff yesterday who described how they cringed at that one. Many of us who have served in various staff positions know the risk of briefing a leader and having him or her forget a key part of the talking points we wanted they to have available.
Those who support President Trump are getting even more used to that experience than most staffers.
Fortunately, he seems to be someone who has no real problem with changing a position or attempting to clarify a misstated comment.
“The days are long gone when politicians considered that expressing support for nuclear energy was a “third rail” that would result in defeat in the voting booths.”
Are they really? Seems like a lot of the politicians in New York and California are rallying around the anti-nuke banner.
In these days of Citizens United, I think the gas industry could easily sway people with a few articles about Fukushima and Chernobyl. As public opinion is swayed away by the stink of gas industry propaganda, the politicians will also follow their nose away from any anticipated support.
Pragmatic politicians may also look at the differing operating cost of gas vs nuclear.
The higher cost of nuclear is akin to paying an additional tax.
I did like the article.
Gas industry funded anti-nuclear propaganda should become less and less effective as more and more people understand the funding source. The propaganda worked well when there was a general belief that the antinuclear “Environmentalists” were the warm and fuzzy protectors of the planet that they claimed to be.
California and New York are certainly harder cases than most of the rest of the United States. Their bubbles are a little hard to burst and their groups are solidly aligned in their inaccurate thinking.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about the notion that SMRs have the potential to be economical (and thus revolutionary), but only if their all-but-inherent safety and much lower potential source term can be used as a justification to reduce expensive and onerous requirements.
I’m starting to think that of all they ways I can help the nuclear cause, pushing this specific idea may be the best thing I can offer. (That and working with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby to get a price put on CO2 emissions.) Both are better than spending hours a day, for decades, arguing on the internet with incorrigible anti-nuclear idiots.
So, the question is, what would be the best way to push this idea? I suppose I should have attended this conference, but it’s in DC (I live in CA), and as I’ve retired, I don’t have huge amounts of money to spend. Do you (Rod and others) think the AdvancingNuclear conference would have been a good place to push the concept? An alternative would be for me to pester the SMR-Smart organization relentlessly. Any other ideas?
You might feel that your responses to nuclear naysayer posts constitutes arguing, I view it as an essential role for someone as knowledgeable as yourself to logically and categorically refute the disinformation and obfuscation rendered by those naysayers. Please don’t minimize your contribution to the conversation. Your voice is heard! Don’t allow the quite human emotions of exasperation and frustration to result in removing your voice. Keep the faith, seize the day, TRUTH will triumph.
In reference to my earlier post, this article shows just how far we have to go, and how hard it will be to change mindsets, at NRC and elsewhere:
How can it be that NRC, or anyone else, could question the obvious conclusion that if your maximum potential source term is more than an order of magnitude lower, the emergency planning zone should be smaller? Lyman’s statements on the matter don’t surprise (or even disappoint) me, given his agenda, but everyone else? If we’re getting hung up on this obvious point, prospects for the much deeper, needed changes look grim.
The fact that the development and licensing process for another LWR, which is simpler far smaller and therefore obviously safer, took ~20 years and ~$1 billion is another bad sign. On top of this, the article lists “safety questions” as a down side of these obviously much safer reactors.
NRC also talks about the need to maintain their impeccable regulations and inspections. (You’d think that they would prefer a centralized fabrication site, where almost all of the fabrication of important-to-safety components is going on.) The general theme is that, with perhaps a few small exceptions, nobody is planning on changing the old ways of doing business one bit. It will all still be done with practices and standards that are different (higher, more onerous) than those applied in any other industry.
This cannot stand since, in order for this all to be economical and successful, the old ways of doing things will HAVE to change. Especially at the plant site. There, things need to be done the same way they would be at a gas plant. With SMRs, we need to start over and reconsider the whole body of nuclear regulations and QA requirements, etc. The real questions need to be why such requirements are still necessary for reactors that are basically incapable of harming people.
When you think about it, refusing to make the needed changes really amounts to a tacit (and voluntary) decision to end the nuclear option and use a whole bunch of fossil fuel instead. Such a decision should not be taken lightly, or blindly. It should be carefully considered, and not be allowed to just happen on auto-pilot. Given that fossil generation is orders of magnitude worse (especially given global warming), it should be clear that such a decision would be indefensible. We should objectively do an evaluation which compares nuclear not to perfection, but to the fossil generation that would (mainly) be used in its place.
More specifically, we should determine what relaxations in requirements would be required to make SMRs economically competitive ($2,500-$3,000/kW, I would say, not the over $6,000/kW NuScale says it’s aiming for). Then we should compare the overall risks/impacts of such “lax” nuclear power to the risks/impact of gas (if not coal) generation. If nuclear is still superior (which it would be), then there is no justification for keeping those requirements and practices in place. In short, for SMRs, there is no justification for not using the standards and practices that are used for other heavy industries, including fossil plants.
Your comment on the NRC “you’d think that they would prefer a centralized fabrication site, where almost all of the fabrication of important-to-safety components is going on” echoes my post on changing the paradigm for Nuclear Reactor manufacturing
to embrace the tenets of SPC (Statistical Process Control) developed by physicist, engineer and statistician Walter Andrew Shewhart and introduced to manufacturing by W. Edwards Demming and Joseph Juran.
Only by insisting that the regulatory authorities demonstrate the intellectual curiosity and sincerity to explore and examine methods and practices that have proven effective elsewhere can the NRC “maintain their impeccable regulations and inspections”, while at the same time gain the trust of the Nuclear Community that they can and will entertain much needed change.
Finally, I’d like to get people’s take on these statements made in a comment on an ANS Nuclear Café article:
“Nuclear Plants have a huge staffing problem – Some of the original large reactors like Connecticut Yankee planned for a total staff of 60-90 not 600-900. Similar sized gas plants have staffs around 20. Some of this is security, some is mandated but a lot is mission creep.”
I’ve always been interested in nuclear plant staffing levels vs. time. Were staffing levels ever actually that low (or only in their plans/dreams)? What were the staffing levels of large plants, say, in the early ’70s? If they were significantly lower, when did they start to escalate? After TMI? After 911?
Anyway, if they were much lower in the past, it would bolster escalating regulations arguments as to why nuclear has become more expensive, even operating costs. I’m hearing people talk about nuclear operating costs above 4 cents/kW-hr. How did it get this high? I was taught, long ago, that nuclear operating costs were under 2 cents. Is it aging plants, or increasing regulations? Staff level evolution would be key to answering that.
BTW, he said another thing that dovetails with much of what I’ve been saying:
“The nuclear engineering community forgot they operate in a real world. Everything was justified as needing extra cost as it had to be “nuclear grade”. The joke was the valve weight 1000 lbs but the paperwork weighed 2000 lb.”
My cursory look across the industry at sites in my Fleet and those I’ve supported has identified that the average 1000 MW LWR has a staff of about 700. Dual Units go up to anywhere from 1000 to as high as 1500 (Diablo Canyon, Susquehanna to name a few). I think ANO sits around 1100 or so, but they’ve thrown a lot of extra resources at the recovery effort. Meanwhile, at the gas plant next door to my unit, a measely 27 people run two peaker plants when the weather gets too cold or too hot. The joke about the nuclear grade valve is absolutely true: the weight of “safety related” components and everything that comes with that moniker really blows cost out of the water, even though we all know that the components were made in the same manner as non-safety.
You have a different problem now, post the 70’s and 80’s that I believe is something the industry is too late to address: Baby boomers retiring in droves and the loss of the knowledge in procedures and hands on performance for important work. This is eating at our fleet faster than ever, and we never really took succession planning and knowledge retention serious enough 10 years ago. We are paying dearly for it now, and so is everyone else.
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