The event, attended by more than 230 people, included a variety of knowledgeable speakers from government and the power industry, as well as tours of the local NuScale testing facilities.
If the intent was to create enthusiasm about how the NuScale small modular technology has the potential to change the energy world, it was a job well done.
To catch-up the uninitiated on NuScale’s plans, from their website:
NuScale Power has developed a small, scalable pressurized water reactor technology, engineered with passive safety features. The 50 MWe NuScale Power Module provides power in increments that can be scaled to 600 MWe (gross) in a single facility.
The small size and design simplicity allows the NuScale Power Module™ to be factory-built off-site. This makes NuScale plants faster to construct, and less expensive to build and operate. The NuScale Power SMR provides Clients with economical, reliable, and carbon-free generation source.
Here are my seven takeaways from the two-day event.
1. “It’s not a paper tiger.”
NuScale CEO John Hopkins made that statement in his opening remarks. And it resonated. Hopkins spent nearly 25 years with Fluor in a variety of posts before becoming chairman and CEO of NuScale in 2012. He also serves as vice-chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. One immediately gets the impression that this is a man interested in seeing things built and built right.
I mentioned creating enthusiasm earlier, but Mr. Hopkins’ main thrust seemed to be inevitability, which is equally important. The path to 2024, the date when the first NuScale facility could begin producing carbon-free power, is a difficult one, yes, but manageable with the tenacity and passion on display from the NuScale leadership. Look at any breakthrough technology or development of the past 150 years and you will find those two attributes in spades.
2. “NuScale has the potential to be larger than Fluor is today.”
Fluor CFO Biggs Porter delivered a big dose of inevitability with his presentation explaining why Fluor took a strong interest in NuScale in 2011 – and put its money where its interest was, to the tune of $170 million and counting. As Mr. Porter made clear, the market potential for NuScale is estimated at 1,500 deployed modules by 2035, leading to the statement quoted above. Fluor is #136 on the Fortune 500 with 43,000 employees and revenue of $21.5 billion.
The applications for the NuScale SMR are varied, from balancing renewables to powering desalination plants. In fact, eight NuScale modules could power a desalination plant providing enough drinking water for a city of 300,000 people. Hello, California?
3. Idaho is just fine with being known for potatoes – and nuclear energy.
This blog has a natural predilection for Washington-grown potatoes, but acknowledges that Idaho really put the potato on the map, as it were. And Idaho is ready to do the same for small modular reactors. With Washington state’s help.
Currently, the plan is to build a NuScale SMR in Idaho. Energy Northwest, based in Richland, Wash., has right of first refusal to be the operator. The power would go to member utilities of UAMPS, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, based in Salt Lake City.
During NuEx, Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann explained EN’s role in developing the licensing and training programs for operation and maintenance of that first NuScale SMR. There are long lead times involved and work is beginning in earnest to ensure the licensing and operator training programs are in place well before initial criticality (consider procedures need to be drafted; the trainers who will train the operators need to be trained and so forth).
That’s why recent criticism that SMR activity in Washington state, such as siting work, is “premature” is simply misplaced. Why not be prepared?
The Idaho team at NuEx impressed me with the state’s desire to support the location of NuScale’s first SMR, targeted for the Idaho National Lab on Department of Energy land, near Idaho Falls.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeffery Sayer, who also spoke passionately about his state, played up the “nimble” and “collaborative” nature of Idaho (and its politics) when it comes to welcoming and developing business partnerships. In other words, they can make it happen.
“Idaho is ready to provide the leadership. This is leadership that NuScale needs, that nuclear needs. And we want to bring this project across the finish line,” Mayor Casper told the NuEx audience.
Mayor Casper is a big fan of nuclear energy and that’s why she’s on board. But also, as it should be with all mayors, her community comes first – and she sees a brighter future in partnering with NuScale so she’s creating the environment for hosting the SMR and perhaps the manufacturing plant to build them.
Could Washington state be home to the second NuScale SMR? As Mr. Reddemann pointed out in an interview, 63 percent of Washington residents support nuclear energy and that number jumps to more than 90 percent in the Richland-area, home to Columbia Generating Station.
“This is the exact opposite of NIMBY. When (electricity) demand recovers, we’d love to be able to build a set of NuScale small modular reactors right next to Columbia,” Reddemann said.
4. NuScale started with an empty room and a $4,000 grant.
New technologies need evangelists and NuScale has a great one in Dr. Jose Reyes, co-founder of the company and its current chief technology officer. One is hard-pressed not to join in his excitement as he explains certain technical aspects of the project’s design, because it appears no matter how many times he relays the information (and it has to be a lot), it still sounds fresh, his eyes still gleam.
In this digital age, recent examples of evangelists are Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Imagine Apple without Jobs. Would there even be an Apple as we know it with its innovations in technology and design?
Dr. Reyes brings heart and soul to nuclear energy in a vital way for a new technology. When things get difficult, when there are setbacks (as is inevitable), who’s driving the team by reminding them that the heartaches and setbacks are worth it because, after all, we’re changing lives and the world? The evangelist. And the team pushes on and finds a way to succeed because they know it’s important that they do. They know their place in the world and what their success can mean for future generations. That’s what an evangelist can do for you.
From a $4,000 grant to potentially $21.5 billion in revenue? It takes more than a good idea to make that happen.
5. Nuclear energy is safer than Sunday brunch.
Yes, it’s true. Scientist and Forbes blogger Jim Conca was on hand to put the safety of nuclear energy into perspective – in the accessible way he always approaches complex scientific and technical issues.
One of the data points for increased deployment of nuclear energy is its awesome safety record. Mr. Conca utilizes a series of slides to demonstrate just how safe nuclear energy is compared to all the relatively normal activities out there that are actually harming us. The leading category for trouble is iatrogenic illness, what Mr. Conca calls “medicine gone wrong.” You go in for treatment and end up dying. That’s number one. Others include smoking, alcohol, car accidents. There are many things that can do us harm – nuclear energy just isn’t one of them.
Nuclear energy is at the bottom of this list, with a relative danger index of 0.0000001. Eating, or food poisoning, has an index of 0.00008. In the U.S., 25,000 people a year are still killed by food poisoning. None by nuclear energy.
Which is one reason, among forms of energy generation, nuclear, on a per trillion kilowatt-hour basis, is better than all other forms of energy. That’s a fact.
6. “When people are scared, facts don’t matter.”
Dr. Scott Tinker’s presentation laid out the world energy picture now and into the future (with the appropriate caveats about predictions, of course). (Find out more about his documentary “Switch”).
But while all signs pointed to nuclear energy as a necessary, vital part of our energy future, there was also the cautionary statement about the “big lift.” What is it? Public education and acceptance, or as Dr. Tinker put it, “the social right to operate” a nuclear power plant.
With some people, no rational argument will work. Still, engagement is necessary because there are many others for whom it will work, we just haven’t reached them yet.
Going beyond facts is an ongoing and necessary discussion in the nuclear energy universe, because, as Jim Conca explained, during the Cold War we were very good at scaring people about nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy suffered (undeserved) collateral damage.
Just recognizing this communication deficiency is the first step to change, and there are many efforts underway, through blogs, through social media (the team at the Nuclear Energy Institute has been superb), to begin to show the human-side of nuclear energy and that while nuclear weapons are about taking lives, nuclear energy is about improving and saving lives.
This is the point where Michael Shellenberger and The Breakthrough Institute have been invaluable in beginning to help people understand the true power of nuclear energy to save the environment. Yes, nuclear energy can save the environment!
Shellenberger explained during his talk that nuclear energy uses the smallest amount of resources to produce the largest amount of energy with little environmental impact and leaves the smallest amount of waste. As the planet grows more energy intensive – and it will – nuclear needs to be front and center to lift millions and millions of people out of poverty. More energy means less poverty and more productive lives. Oh, and cleaner air if we get that energy from nuclear.
7. This is the right thing to do.
On so many levels, this is an endeavor that legions of people can embrace. The caliber of people joining the mission is impressive. For instance, NuScale has 17 PhD’s from Oregon State University working for them now. You don’t think they want to play a role in changing the world?
Jobs. Clean air energy. Reliable and affordable electricity. Abundant water through desalination. More renewables through firming. And the safest form of electricity generation made safer.
For those attending the NuEx conference, 2024 can’t come soon enough.
(Posted by John Dobken)