There are two important articles about nuclear power from diverse information sources that cry for a mashup. (For those readers who are not fully up to speed with Web lingo, you can learn about three different kinds of mashups from Wikipedia.)
On August 16, 2006, Dale Klein, the recently appointed Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, gave a speech to the Nuclear Energy Institute NSIAC Dinner. The speech had no official title, but I will call it the I am from Missouri – You have to show me speech. The speech text was posted to the NRC web site on August 20, 2006.
Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and The Columbia Journalism Review, provided a completely different kind of commentary for his “Your Dollars” column, which appears exclusively on Market Watch. His August 19, 2006 column was titled The coming rebound of nuclear power – Commentary: A generation later, it’s worth another look.
In the first article, Mr. Klein called out the leaders of the nuclear industry and encouraged them to make firm commitments for a new generation of nuclear plants.
When I hear it said we’re going to build 50 nuclear plants in the next 20 years, I say, show me – show me the designs, and then show me the hardware and the construction, and then show me you have the people and procedures in place to run those new facilities in a way that will ensure public safety and security. And by the way, show me that you’re maintaining the highest standards of safety performance for the plants already in operation.
Of course, there are many leaders of companies that are members of the Nuclear Energy Institute that are being either tentative or somewhat secretive with their plans. They tell their shareholders and investors that they are making preparations in case new nuclear power plants are warranted, but they still see numerous financial potholes in the way of their ultimate success. They do not yet want to commit; many of those leaders lived through a very difficult time in the industry.
Mr. Loeb offers a different point of view that might help provide at least some of the leaders the support that they need to make persuasive presentations to their boards on the need for commitment. Remember Mr. Loeb is an experienced and well respected personal finance writer; when he writes, he is talking to individual shareholders who are looking for investment ideas and opportunities. The key passage that company leaders need to understand is the following:
But even before that, large numbers of people stand to benefit. Among them are producers of many sophisticated goods (steam generators, turbines, pumps, specialty steel and alloys), skilled craftsmen and professionals (pipefitters, welders, engineers, architects), uranium miners, and, of course, shareholders in companies that make and build the plants.
Alas, there aren’t many of the last mentioned in the U.S. Only General Electric remains. And its nuclear business — designing and building reactors and providing services and nuclear fuel — is about $1 billion a year. Westinghouse, long the other major U.S. manufacturer, sold out in 1999 to British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., which in turn sold the business early this year to Japan’s Toshiba.
However, many of the new nuclear plants are planned to be in the U.S. South, and railways, trucking and barge lines in the region are likely to benefit from a broad pickup in traffic.
What that tells me is that there is growing interest among people in finding ways to focus at least some of their investment portfolio on companies that stand to benefit from a revived nuclear industry. That interest might result in significant share price gains for companies that are recognized as industry leaders or bellwethers.
That passage also refers to one of the major themes in Mr. Klein’s “Show Me” speech. While Mr. Loeb lists some job categories that will benefit from a revived nuclear industry, Mr. Klein told the industry:
But we are also very concerned about a much more basic – human – dimension. Where is the industry going to get all of the talented people to run these advanced new plants safely while shepherding today’s fleet of plants through the balance of their extended lives?
I don’t think I need to run the numbers for you – NEI’s own surveys chronicle the tens of thousands of professional and skilled craft workers needed to keep the current fleet in operation, including the replacements for the operators, engineers, health physicists and others who are taking their invaluable knowledge with them into retirement.
And how many more professionals and craft workers will be needed for the new plants whose applications are starting to arrive at NRC?
I know that the industry is working on many fronts to address this critical need – scholarships, training programs, recruitment, and so on. But I have the sense that we’re all just nibbling around the edges of an enormous obstacle to success. You know that my background is in academia, running a university nuclear engineering program, and therefore you must know that during my time in the University of Texas program I fought constantly against budget erosion and declining interest both by students and school administration.
Nuclear industry leaders should recognize that many of the people that they need are also “from Missouri”. They have serious reservations about making the individual commitment necessary to become a trained, skilled, effective contributor in an industry that appeared ready to give up just a few years ago. It was not so long ago that I attended an American Nuclear Society meeting where the D&D (Decommissioning and Decontamination) industry appeared to be the only growth area. I had no interest in dedicating my career to erasing the evidence of a failed industry; I wanted to build and operate new plants to help solve some very pressing human energy needs. I still want to do that. (Shameless plug – support for this blog is provided by Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. The support mainly includes allowing me some early morning time to write it!)
I have no fear that there will be sufficient numbers of people available if the industry commits itself to growing at a pace commensurate with its technical advantages over other energy sources. Nuclear power will not win every market, but it has the potential for incredible, long term prosperity.
It is time for industry leaders to admit that nuclear power has a future bright enough to defend. They need to continue efforts to educate people about their technology, their commitment to excellence and their dedication to safety. When (not if) people show up to try to stop individual projects, the whole industry needs to respond and tell everyone why they have not only a right, but an obligation to exist. More importantly than any of those actions, however, is that they have to stop talking and start spending. When the money begins to flow into new projects, people will realize that the prospects for good jobs are real. Until then, people who hear about industry opportunities will sound more like a quote from the movie Jerry Maguire – “Show me the money”.
Aside: Despite the fact that I am not often asked, I like to give advice. (Otherwise, why be a blogger?) I really would like the nuclear industry to stop spending so much time trying to make a case for increased financial support from the government; asking for subsidies for such a potentially profitable industry is unseemly. If you really need government money to get started, at least let the taxpayers become investors that will benefit when the dough starts rolling in.
Thanks to Eric McErlain of NEI Nuclear Notes for providing the initial links to both articles referenced in the mashup above.