Maria Korsnick brings fresh thinking to nuclear energy leadership
Maria Korsnick has a passion for nuclear energy and a well- informed view of the challenges and opportunities the U.S. nuclear industry faces.
That was my impression after recently attending her first press conference as NEI’s new president and CEO.
“If we hope to maximize nuclear energy’s immense potential globally, the United States must take a leadership role and NEI must carry out its mission effectively on behalf of our members and all of the suppliers, vendors and utilities that we represent,” Korsnick told reporters.
“I am truly passionate about the role that nuclear energy can play for our nation and the world. I consider it the unsung hero of our energy mix….My focus is to get nuclear energy recognized as an essential part of the nation’s industrial and electrical infrastructure.”
She is replacing Marv Fertel, who is retiring after serving as the trade association’s leader since 2009.
Nuclear Bona Fides
Korsnick has served as the Chief Operating Officer COO of NEI since May 2015 as a loaned executive from Exelon. Before moving to NEI, she spent three decades in the nuclear industry, initially as an employee of Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E), when it was a regulated, vertically-integrated utility.
After regulatory restructuring, BG&E’s generating units were purchased by Constellation Energy. In 2015, CE was in turn purchased by Exelon.
She has filled positions of increasing responsibility and authority, with time as an engineer, senior reactor operator, projects and outage manager, site vice president and acting CNO for Constellation.
She served in important roles with Constellation as it expanded its fleet from the original two units at Calvert Cliffs to include an additional three units in the U.S. Northeast.
During the Friday press event, Don Brant, chairman of NEI’s board, explained the search process to fill the CEO position and described how Korsnick stood out among a competitive field that started with approximately 200 candidates.
He fielded a question from one of the attending reporters who wondered why the nuclear industry had chosen someone with such a strong technical and industry background instead of someone with more experience in political and customer relations.
Brandt explained that people who have served as site vice presidents and CEOs have obtained experience in communications and working in the political arena. He pointed out that Korsnick has demonstrated strong skills in communicating to NEI member executives, employees, elected and appointed government officials and the general public.
He added that the nuclear industry is special and needs a leader who is thoroughly familiar with its issues.
‘Fine Where It Is Today’
When asked if the industry was going to continue pushing for Yucca Mountain, Korsnick said that the industry was looking for both progress on interim consolidated storage and licensing the repository.
She and her advisors believe that the political situation demands a parallel push forward that includes consolidated interim storage and continued progress for licensing Yucca. Some nuclear energy supporters in Congress will only support interim storage if progress is made in other areas.
Aside: Having watched a number of congressional hearings on the topic, the members that stubbornly insist on completing the Yucca Mountain licensing process seem mainly concerned with beating Sen. Harry Reid on an issue that’s important to him. Reid has retired. End Aside
Korsnick then made an important statement that should be repeated by nuclear industry leaders as often as possible. “The reality is our fuel is fine where it is today. It’s safe where it is today. It’s not a safety concern.”
She went on to explain why the industry insists on meeting the Yucca Mountain milestone, even though there is no economic, technical or safety reason for an urgent change to the way it’s been handing its used fuel for decades.
“But it is a promise, right, that the federal government made to all of these stations that said we will find a place for this fuel,” Korsnick said. “So we absolutely need to pursue the long term solution for ultimate storage.”
Perhaps it’s time for the nuclear industry to play this particular game of tug-of-war with more cunning. When there’s little progress in a long-running match, strategic slacking can be a winning tactic. Done correctly, it results in one side falling down, giving the other side a chance for an easier victory.
Since on-site storage is safe and interim consolidated storage seems likely to be approved in a relatively short time, the industry could suddenly stop pulling for Yucca by stating over and over that a 100-year plan is good enough for now.
That position would give us plenty of time to devise and implement a long term fuel plan that doesn’t depend on politicians following through on their promises. Letting opponents “win” on Yucca would save a lot of time and capital [including political capital] for more pressing issues.
Fixing Dysfunctional Markets
Korsnick stated several times that the electricity produced by the nuclear industry isn’t adequately valued by the market. She indicated that the nuclear industry is planning to push to receive more equal treatment once the election dust has settled.
When challenged about whether Congress has any appetite for providing new tax credits or other incentives, Korsnick explained that the industry sees the necessary assistance as being temporary and a “bridging strategy” to help it through a particularly difficult market period.
Getting attention and support from the federal government often is more difficult than obtaining it from states and localities that are more directly affected by the high quality jobs and tax base benefits of nuclear energy.
Korsnick pointed to New York’s decision to offer a zero emission credit to nuclear as a big win and discussed the lack of progress on similar programs in Illinois.
She was especially pleased that the state used the social cost of carbon in its calculations about the environmental value of its nuclear plants and hoped that the situation was precedent- setting. She didn’t mention the challenges being raised in New York to what is being characterized as an expensive bailout by opponents that ignore situational variables and quote only the highest cost estimate.
The new NEI chief didn’t agree with a question wondering if the industry was guiltily of “crying wolf” in Illinois by establishing a deadline for new support and then not following through with the promised action when the deadline was passed.
Exelon provided an accurate warning, she said. She also said that the situation changed a little as the deadline approached. The situational change gave a little flexibility in a still tough economic situation.
She then begged off answering more questions about particular company situations, saying that NEI has a lot of members with sometimes a variety of needs and situations.
What About Advertising?
In response to a question I asked, Korsnick agreed that the industry needs to do a more complete job describing the characteristics of its product that increase its value to the ultimate decision makers —-t he people that elect government officials and pay electric power bills.
NEI is planning to do more with its advertising and is especially looking at improving its digital outreach. It is looking to be more creative in reaching the ultimate consumers and helping them to recognize how kind nuclear energy is to the environment.
“I’m the mother of two kids and I want my kids to grow up in a world that’s safe, secure and has clean fresh air. One of the reasons I’m a huge proponent of nuclear, having grown up in this industry is, in fact, all of those things….Nuclear ensures that we have that clean air to breathe and that healthy atmosphere.”
It’s ultimately consumers and voters, not the politicians, who need to recognize and place a high value on nuclear energy.
Korsnick spent several minutes providing a progress report on “Delivering the Nuclear Promise,” the NEI program that is striving to achieve a 30% cost reduction for operating nuclear plants.
She spoke about a number of initiatives, the high priority that is being given to the program by Chief Nuclear Officers and the way that the effciency concepts are fully developed, signed off by various reviewers and then distributed to members as efficiency bulletins.
But she did not address the potential effect of the program on the morale of the youngest and least senior people in the organizations.
The bright new recruits know that nearly all costs associated with nuclear plant operations can be traced to employee salaries; cutting costs is nearly impossible without layoffs.
Korsnick expressed her excitement about new nuclear technologies including generation III reactors like those being built at Vogtle and Summer, light water SMRs like NuScale’s, and advanced non-light water reactors.
She placed a high priority on working with the NRC to develop the necessary licensing framework that will enable these projects to move forward more rapidly and predictably.
Almost surprisingly, since it came from an NEI leader, Korsnick described how a 1 to 3 MWe nuclear generator that doesn’t need fuel for 10-20 years can be a valuable product under certain circumstances.
That, more than anything, indicates that NEI hasn’t just changed its voice and face by replacing Fertel with Korsnick. It seems to be in the process of revising its fundamental way of thinking for the better.
Note: A version of the above was first published in the October 20, 2016 issue of Fuel Cycle Week. It has been republished here with permission.
Well, yes, she is impressive and yes her appointment is good for NEI and the industry. That said the former Chief Nuclear Officer for a major utility will take over the policy and trade group as the industry and its members are facing major challenges.
* Keeping reactors open in the face of significant market trends
* Finding solutions for interim and final disposition of spent nuclear fuel
* Laying the ground work for a new generation of advanced reactors
My discussion here.
“He fielded a question from one of the attending reporters who wondered why the nuclear industry had chosen someone with such a strong technical and industry background instead of someone with more experience in political and customer relations”
While reading the bio that preceded the quoted paragraph, I wondered along the exact same lines as the questioner. It just seems to me that technologically, NE should unquestionably be part of our energy grid. The problem, within the industry, is convincing the inability to convince the public of that reality. And the creative nature of effective PR primarily utilizes the opposite side of the brain than Ms. Korsnik seems to be proficient at utilizing. The science and technology isn’t lacking, the message is. It will be interesting to see if Ms. Korsnick can manage to effectively put the message out there, without going over the heads of 90% of the public with an overly scientific approach.
I can see reasons why they are shutting down reactors (low natural gas prices, public opposition, regulatory expense, etc.) but I can’t see any reasons why they are being dismantled. Yes, regulations require dismantling (perhaps the “ENTOMB” option is an exception?) within a few decades — but why rush it?
These reactors could (in theory) be brought back online in 10 years if the economic situation, regulatory environment and/or public opinion changes, right?
Unless — of course — they have been dismantled.
The issue is you have to fire people to reduce costs on a shutdown unit.
Letting people go means you lose the training and qualifications. It also means you aren’t doing all your normal surveillance testing required for your license.
So when you want to start up again, you need to run new operator licensing classes (nobody is proficient on a hot reactor anymore). Re-accredit the training program. Perform all surveillance testing. It’s a several hundred million dollar effort now, possible billion dollar.
It’s very very hard. There’s no regulatory way to do it unfortunately.
Re: “NEI is planning to do more with its advertising and is especially looking at improving its digital outreach.”
“Planning to do more”?
Sorry, this doesn’t do it for me. Almost sounds like Ads are a poor stepchild here. Next to lobbying, aggressive P.R. should be one of NEI’s two top prime reasons to exist. Not ace prioritizing that is why nuclear’s image is in Darth Vader’s toilet.
I have worked with Maria Korsnick while she was at Ginna and found her to be intelligent, personable, tough and capable as well as technically competent. She knows when to ask others for advice, how to evaluate the evidence and take appropriate action to achieve her objectives. She was also a pretty good dancer at the company Holiday Parties, she will need those moves to dance with politicians, regulators, media, the public and the various industry leaders to bring the nuclear industry the admiration and respect it deserves, for the value it provides, now and into the future.
Thank you for the personal testimonial. I have not yet worked closely with Ms. Korsnick, but my impressions from several interactions agree with your description.
I agree in part with your statement:
“Since on-site storage is safe and interim consolidated storage seems likely to be approved in a relatively short time, the industry could suddenly stop pulling for Yucca by stating over and over that a 100-year plan is good enough for now.”
NEI and the industry could start working behind the scenes to move for pyro-chemical reprocessing not only for re-using the good U and Pu, but also by preparing the feed material for fast-reactor fuel that could for some of the advanced non-LWR designs reduce the volume of high-level radioactive waste by burning the other actinides. That process could be in place by the time an advanced non-LWR design has been licensed and construction along with Yucca Mountain or some other geologic repository being constructed and ready for operation.
The existing industry has higher priority ways to spend its limited time and resources. Development of commercially viable recycling can be pursued, but i think it would be better to sever that effort from the commercial power production enterprise.
We didn’t expect Ford, GM and Chrysler to develop scrap yards and we didn’t require the can industry to figure out aluminum recycling.
You have to have a plan for beyond the next 10 years. Ford, GM, and Chrysler did not have to worry about scrap yards since they already existed and learning how to scrap a car was not a big learning curve for the companies that were scraping other industrial machinery.
Advanced non-LWRs will need specially designed and processed nuclear fuel from a fuel fabrication facility that does not exist today. It would be rather short-sighted for these reactor innovators to come up with a design without having the source for the fuel also developed at the same time. Especially if they want to build more that just one advanced non-LWR power plant.
IMO, the time to plan and move forward with a flexible pyro-chemical reprocessing and fuel fabrication facility is now not later given the time necessary to succeed. Else the development, construction, and operation of multiple advanced non-LWRs by 2025 to 2030 will be seriously crippled by a lack of qualified nuclear fuel in the quantity needed.
There are some advanced non-LWRs that are fully aware of the importance of fuel qualification.
Specifically, the HTR projects are eager to build on success of a program that has been underway for something approaching 20 years – not including the early German, Japanese and US programs.
Some…. So, what is the plan for making the HTR fuel in the U.S. Where, what, and how?
I have not seen anything about this in the various blogs and industry news articles. I hope the 30 to 40 companies supposedly working on various advanced reactor designs aren’t waiting to get their fuel plans moving. That’s my point. I would like to see some articles about the front end and back end of these advanced reactor’s fuel plans before trying to get a license. If I were an investor, I would like to know this before giving someone my money.
If you were an investor in companies developing the required fuel fabrication machinery, perhaps you wouldn’t want to read too much about the work being done on blogs and industry news articles.
At least in the US the preferred fast reactor is GE-Hitachi’s S-PRISM Integrated Fast Reactor. Integrated in the sense that the fuel pyro-reprocessing is done on-site in an automated facility integrated with the reactors themselves. See IFR FaD.
While there have indeed been proposals to distance the pyroprocessing plant from the reactors, so that one reprocessing facility could serve several reactor sites, some of which might have only one or a few reactors rather than the six envisioned in a fully populated 1.8 GWe power plant, these involve transport of thermally and radioactively hot fuel between reactors and plant, which would be expensive and is not the way S-PRISM is initially designed.
However, one might suppose that building such a complex standalone pyroprocessing plant now, in advance of anticipated but as yet hypothetical reactors that would probably be much simpler than the pyroprocessing plant itself, simultaneous with a 15+ billion USD MOX plant to convert our surplus weapons plutonium to LWR fuel, would be simpler, easier, cheaper, and faster than holding the MOX and just building a single initial fast reactor, fabricating however many pins from our depleted uranium and surplus weapons plutonium (both radiologically safe to handle), irradiate them long enough to denature their plutonium, and store those instead.
At least, such appears to be the preference of NRC, State, and DoE. They couldn’t possibly get it wrong, could they?
Yes, S-PRISM has an integrated pyro-chemical but I have not read any news articles about GE-H wanting to get S-PRISM licensed and built somewhere in the U.S. (I seem to remember that the UK was more interested in this design).
However, there are several advanced reactor designs who are outside of the traditional UO2 fuel pins/assemblies that are not clear on how they are going to address the fuel fabrication and waste stream. But are quite willing to say their design will burn SNF. Maybe they will be like S-PRISM and will an integral fuel fabrication and reprocessing capacity. It would be good to know what they are going to do so that we can see if there is any special planning that must be factored into any DOE/Federal government plans.
My point in all of this with is that these advanced reactor startups and NEI (who I am assuming wants to support them) cannot forget about the parts of the infrastructure outside of the reactor design itself. They should start that process sooner rather than later.
Oh it’s a good point all right. One of the delays in Russia’s BN-1200 program (iirc, WNA fnr link is currently down) was qualifying the start-up fuel.
GE-H submitted a 508 page inquiry to NRC spring 2010, and again a year later, asking about the feasibility of licensing S-PRISM.
They were told not to bother.
Russia intends for BN-1200 to initially burn MOX, then progress to U-Pu nitride and a closed fuel cycle. I somehow doubt either BN-1200 or BREST will factor into any DOE/Federal plans. But Westinghouse has started (joined?) an international lead-cooled FNR collaboration, which one might guess BREST is a part.
Judging by the comments FShu, Jack Devanney, and Robert Hargraves contributed here, I’d guess these advanced reactor startups are (painfully) aware of the challenges inherent in obtaining initial seed fuel.
The thought of a 1-3 MW reactor is pretty awesome. You can drop them almost anywhere for local power production. They won’t have enough decay heat to cause serious damage. No evacuation zone outside of the building. It’s just a cool idea.
Considering the audience and participants that this blog attracts, it seems that an effort by Ms. Korsnick to relay her early thoughts on strategy, here on this blog, would be an important and constructive part the discussion. Is she going to be competent at getting a postitive message out to the public? Well, here’s a good place to start. Wheres the meat?
Please remember that the post didn’t appear here until Friday and it’s just Sunday now.
Busy people don’t all spend their weekends on the Internet.
Didn’t appear for me before today. This delay is typical for me on this site.
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