Dr. Sama Bilbao y Leon, the Director General of the World Nuclear Association, visited the Atomic Show to provide an international perspective on the revival in interest in nuclear energy deployment.
As the head of the organization that represents the global nuclear industry, provides education about all matters related to using nuclear technologies, and lobbies for recognition of the value that nuclear energy provides, she is uniquely able to describe what the world is thinking about building and operating a wide variety of nuclear energy generating systems.
Dr. Bilbao y Leon shared valuable messages from her conversations with world leaders during the recent Conference of the Parties in Egypt (COP27) .
“A very important dimension of decarbonization tends to be forgotten. When we are looking at the global north as in developed countries obviously we are focused on decarbonization, reducing emissions, energy efficiency, being more cost effective and more effective in how we use the energy that we do have.That is the transition that we are looking towards – cleaner energy. But when we are looking to the global south, their energy transition goes from no energy to energy.”
“You have a lot of countries saying, ok people. Yes, we want to decarbonize, yes we want to use our resources as effectively as possible, but we also – and foremost – want to achieve the standard of living that you guys are already enjoying.”
We talked about the utility of small modular reactors (SMR) in bringing nuclear energy benefits to a broader selection of energy consumers – a term that includes all of us.
Aside: Our conversation took a personal side trip to a time when Sama Bilbao y Leon, then a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, was intrigued by a “crazy” talk describing the benefits of nuclear systems small enough to be called atomic engines. End Aside.
We talked about the process that countries undertake when they choose to develop the capability to own and operate nuclear power plants. We speculated on nuclear energy’s potential to provide the kind of “leapfrog” advance demonstrated by mobile phone technology.
We also talked about ways to respond to inaccurate arguments claiming that there are no small modular reactors operating or that they are untested and unproven technologies.
Dr. Sama Bilbao y Leon brings a diverse resume to her job. She started her professional career as a nuclear safety engineer with Dominion, a major utility with a large nuclear plant operating arm, became an associate professor of nuclear engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University – where she played a leading role in establishing a new nuclear engineering degree program – and served in a variety of leadership positions at international organizations like the IAEA and the NEA.
She holds a PhD and master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Wisconsin Madison,, a master’s (Energy Technologies) and bachelor’s (Mechanical Engineering) degrees from the Polytechnic University of Madrid.
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