The challenges facing nuclear energy in the United States are mounting. Just a decade ago there were predictions that nuclear power was poised for a renaissance, but the sector is struggling to stave off decline. Plants are closing and there are no plans for any large-scale new projects. 

In this episode of the Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless sits down with Maria Korsnick, the president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association in Washington, D.C. A nuclear engineer by training, Maria joined NEI two years ago from Exelon Corp., where she was senior vice president for Northeast Operations, responsible for nuclear plants in Maryland and New York. Before that, she was the chief nuclear officer and acting CEO at Constellation Energy Nuclear Group.

Maria and Bill talked about the early retirements of nuclear power plants and the efforts by states and the Trump administration to prevent more reactors from going off-line. They also explored the extent to which nuclear power’s reputation for carbon-free emissions could become a bigger rallying cry for the industry as the outlook for addressing climate change darkens. The discussion also touched upon whether Republicans and Democrats in Congress might put aside partisan differences in 2019 to agree on steps to promote nuclear power, including the development of small modular reactors, given the results of the midterm elections. 

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Bill Loveless:  Nuclear energy is facing difficult times in the United States with some plants closing and no plans for new big projects.  In short, rather than enjoying a Renaissance that was predicted a decade ago, the industry is struggling to stave off decline.  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless.  Our guest today is Maria Korsnick, the President and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association in Washington.  A nuclear engineer by training, Maria joined NEI two years ago from Exelon Corporation where she was senior vice-president for northeast operations.  In that role, she was responsible for the operations at nuclear plants in Maryland and New York.  Before that, she was the chief nuclear officer and acting CEO at Constellation Energy Nuclear Group.  Like other conversations that I’m having these days, I’m interested in not only in the condition of energy industries like nuclear but also in the outlook for changes in policy and regulation affecting them in 2019.  At her office in downtown DC, Maria and I talked about the early retirements of nuclear power plants and efforts by some states in the Trump administration to prevent more reactors from going offline.  We also explored the extent to which nuclear power’s reputation for a carbon free emissions could become a bigger rallying cry for the industry at a time when reports of climate change are becoming more ominous.  Of course, sitting in Washington, we couldn’t help but address whether Republicans and Democrats in a new congress might put aside their differences to agree on steps to promote nuclear power including the development of small modular reactors.  Well, here is our conversation.  I hope you enjoy it.  Maria Korsnick, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:02:02]

Maria Korsnick:  Thanks.  Great to be here.

 

[00:02:03]

Bill Loveless:  Maria, I always like to start with talking a little bit about the guest, so listeners have a sense of who she is and interested in you of course.  Tell us how about your career path and how it led you to where you are today now as head of the Nuclear Energy Institute?

 

[00:02:22]

Maria Korsnick:  Oh, great.  Well, thank you very much.  So, I’ve always been interested a bit in math and science probably as you look back at long career and nuclear power started as nuclear engineer.  I worked actually in the control room as a senior reactor operator, that’s something you get a license from by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  As my career progressed, ultimately, I was in charge of running a nuclear plant.  As a site vice-president, I did that in New York at the Ginna plant.  And then from there, I progressed to what’s called a chief nuclear officer and chief nuclear officer, I was responsible for plants in New York and plants in Maryland.  Five reactors at three different locations and I absolutely love nuclear power.  I’m a big fan but I’m a big fan from the inside having grown up, if you will on the operational side.  That brought me to NEI which works to get the message out about nuclear and so I feel like I’m perfectly poised to help with that message because I’ve lived it.

 

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Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:03:20]

Maria Korsnick:  And so, we take that message and talked to policy makers and legislators and your audience as well.  I’m happy to be here today.

 

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Bill Loveless:  Well, and you did learn it from the ground up.  You have a degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Maryland and you served in those various roles that you’ve mentioned with Exelon as well as with Constellation Energy.

 

[00:03:41]

Maria Korsnick:  That’s right.

 

[00:03:42]

Bill Loveless:  Which was then based in Maryland as well.  So you’ve certainly seen the industry from the inside out.  Well, you know, today, as we see tremendous growth in energy across the board in the United States in terms of natural gas, oil, renewable energy.  But when it comes to nuclear energy sector, you see some decline.  You know, it’s been one major new plant under construction in Georgia.  There was a second but now that’s been canceled in South Carolina.  The Renaissance that was talked about some years ago seems to have stalled.  It’s more about simply saving what the industry has.  Saving nuclear reactors from shutting down rather suddenly.

 

[00:04:39]

Maria Korsnick:  That’s right.

 

[00:04:39]       

Bill Loveless:  As I understand it.  Since 2012, there have been six nuclear plants retired.  Eight more set to close by 2025.  What’s going on?

 

[00:04:48]

Maria Korsnick:  Yeah, so the nuclear sector is very much under stress today.  I would say that stress has been created a bit from the fact that there has been very low natural gas prices.  There is also very low demands increasing for electricity.  And there has been other types of generation that have received a variety of subsidies.  Some at the state level, some at the federal level and a variety of packages could be tax credits etc.  But this sort of perfect storm, if you will has landed on the nuclear sector and nuclear has been providing for many, many years, reliable, resilient carbon free emission free power.  That have been taken for granted and so really one of our challenges is to get that recognition that nuclear deserves and says, hey wait a minute, we have this great power source.  It’s doing wonderful work.  It’s very, resilient and it needs that recognition in the marketplace for some of these carbon free emission free attributes that it’s bringing.  You’re seeing the states recognize that and so some of the states are coming forward with policies to help support it.  And you say to yourself why am I seeing it at the state level? Because the state see the jobs and they, on a whole, nuclear produces about 500,000 jobs across the United States.  So, strong quality job provider and the states also get the benefit of that clean air and that low carbon, no carbon emission and so you are seeing the activity in the states to preserve these wonderful assets.  The challenge with something like nuclear is once it shuts down, it’s shut for good.  It’s not a decision, you say three, four years from now, oh, you know what, now that I have a better understanding of things, I do want to go back to that.  It’s not something that you restart.  And so, the real challenge for nuclear as it’s been challenged in the marketplace, the decision has been in some cases as you’ve mentioned to close.  And I’ll just note for the ones that have closed or have announced closure, that’s 90 million megawatt hours.  90 million, that’s a huge number.  If you say, when we sort of put that in context for me, that’s all of the wind east of the Mississippi and including all of the utility grade solar that we produced in 2017.  So, if you shut these plants, you’ve now taken a huge step backwards because all that stuff that’s generating, just gets you back where you are today.  It’s as though, you’ve made no progress at all in additional clean energy.

 

[00:07:31]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  Well, you mentioned that and a number of states have acted.  Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York have adopted policies that provide credits to nuclear plants for zero carbon emissions and enabling plants to remain online.  Pennsylvania is considering a similar move.  It’s a patchwork approach.  But is it the best option available for the nuclear industry today?

 

[00:08:00]

Maria Korsnick:  So I see it as a bit of a journey.  You mentioned the word patchwork and I would agree with you that it’s not the most elegant solution because of the patchwork nature that you mentioned.  At the same token as you take that patchwork of individual states as we work with electricity there is also a regional component.  So, now you have some stress at the regional level because you have some states doing something and some states didn’t do something and yet you are trying to sell and move electricity at a regional level.  So that conflict at the end of the day, I believe is going to need to be rationalized.  It’s gonna need to be figured out.  That will ultimately put pressure on this more national elegant solution.  So you’re not gonna see that, I don’t think right away.  But I think you are gonna begin to see conversations at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission begin to try to rationalize some of these things could be through tariffs, could be sort of through other mechanisms.  But you’re already seeing some of that conversation.  So, is it the most efficient way to do it? Perhaps not.  But I think it’s symptomatic of the systems of government that we have that you’re gonna see it first at a state level and then likely at some point.  Maybe more elegant solution at a national level.

 

[00:09:17]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  And it does seem there is a lot to be sorted out.  As you know, you face resistance on some of these moves within the states, the PJM, the grid operator for some 13 states in the mid-Atlantic and the northeast has resisted these sort of state policies.  They don’t see any threat to the reliability of the grid in the near term from the loss of these nuclear plants that have been at risk and some of which have been saved by state action.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is sorting this out.  First let’s talk a bit about PJM.  They have been sort of a hurdle, I think for the industry because of this position they’ve taken that you know, we may lose some nuclear power plants but that is not a threat to the grid’s reliability in the near term.  How do you respond to that?

 

[00:10:13]

Maria Korsnick:  Yeah, so they have issued a report recently and you got to sort of read a bit into it.  On one hand, the comment that you made, you said, well, yeah, we’re okay.  But if you read into the details, it said, we’re okay, if it’s, you know, a mild winter and we don’t see any challenges.  If you ready little further into that report, it would say, well, you know, if it’s not so mild a winter and we’ve projected forward a bit, there are scenarios where in fact, not everybody gets all of the power quite frankly that they want.  And it wasn’t too different from a New England ISO study that was done that indicated that there were some issues and some challenges.  NEI sponsored a study this year by ICF that likewise suggested, it’s not so much just looking at today.  We have to forecast based on the trends of what’s being seen, do we have a problem in the future? Because remember, we said, once you make the decision to close nuclear, that option is closed.  So, what you really need to do is project it a bit more into the future and say, hey wait a minute.  If you see a challenge there, then let’s bring forward some of these decisions and not point ourself into a corner and so think about the polar vortex a couple of years ago.  You know, one of the reasons that the polar vortex in the northeast was a challenge is because the polar vortex is cold.  People want heating for their homes and so, you have that source gas.  Are you gonna heat the home or you’re gonna go produce electricity with it? And so, at the time where you need that gas to help you produce electricity, it’s also in demand for another very critical function, keeping us warm.  So, when you have other sources of supply like nuclear that I don’t have that decision, to make you know.  You’re not using me for home heating and so there is where we are trying to make sure that we have a resilient supply that can withstand some of these severe challenges.  And in that polar vortex that I mentioned, the nuclear plants 95% of the nuclear power that was available was available during that very critical time.  And quite frankly helped keep the grid, the resilient grid that we need.

 

[00:10:13]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  We’re talking about resilience and cost reliability and sometimes I think, I still struggle to understand the distinction between the two terms.  But let’s say with reliability, reliability of supply.  There has been a lot of discussion here in Washington on that very topic.  The Department of Energy under Secretary Perry had an initiative to try to compensate old coal and nuclear power plants for their availability going forward.  And that fell flat with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Still, DOE is looking, has been looking at another way of going about that using national defense as a criteria for establishing such assistance for old coal and nuclear plants.  And it’s still looking at this whole reliability issue.  It seems very complicated.  It seems controversial and in some ways too politically.  How do you view this whole discussion has taken place in Washington right now among policy makers and regulators?

 

[00:13:39]

Maria Korsnick:  Yeah.  Thanks for asking.  Let’s start first when we talk about reliability and why does nuclear sort of get any kind of credit in that conversation.  And I would add that well, nuclear gets credit and earns credit with greater than a 90% capacity factor.  Capacity factor means for the amount of time that you could operate, how long did you operate? So, 90%, very big number and you know, if I would have told you hey, we’ve done that for a year, you’d say, you know, good for you Maria.  We’ve done it for a decade and a half.  So, you don’t get lucky for 15 years in a row.  That’s a demonstration of how well we operate these plants and I would tell you that the United States operates best in the world in terms of our demonstration for how well we operate in the United States, our nuclear power here in the united states.  So when we talk about reliability, always there, always on, seven days a week for the kind of capacity factor that I’m mentioning.  That’s why nuclear earns a conversation relative to reliability because the data would suggest that we have actually been, you know, there.  Again, I kind of use the words unsung hero.  You know, sort of been there, been present and producing very reliably.  So the challenge as you mentioned, you know, they’re not really supposed to pick between different technologies.  That’s not their job.  And so, they really just look across the board and say, do we have the supply that we need.  And so, really one would reflect on that and say, you know, at the time these markets were developed, they were really developed because we weren’t, say using plants as efficiently as we could and they were really developed to create that competitive environment to get sort of the least cost, you know, electricity provided.  If you hear our conversation today, we say things like, I want clean air.  I care about the climate.  And we’re using terminology that quite frankly, that’s not what the markets were designed for.  So, we shouldn’t be surprised that the markets are not rationalizing criteria that they want developed to engage on.  And so that really when you say, Maria, what’s the conversation with _____ [00:15:54] you know the regulators? That’s to me why we are seeing this challenge is because we’re asking a test question that quite frankly, it wasn’t designed for that.

 

[00:16:06]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.

 

[00:16:07]

Maria Korsnick:  And that’s why, the sort of this fundamental conversation around well, what do you do with it and that’s where the states can make their decisions because it’s something they value in their states rights as there should be.  And they’re exercising those state rights.  So, they are saying, I do want clean air for my state and for my constituent.  It’s important to me and so I’m gonna take action for that.

 

[00:16:30]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right and they are.

 

[00:16:30]

Maria Korsnick:  And they are.

 

[00:16:31]

Bill Loveless:  And for the most part, you’ve been prevailing.  The industry has been prevailing as each state has considered this.  I don’t know there has been a state that has turned it down.

 

[00:16:39]

Maria Korsnick:  We’ve prevailed at the state level and it’s gone as well to an appeal courts and it’s been upheld at the appeal courts.  So, yeah, it’s rigorous and robust.

 

[00:16:48]

Bill Loveless:  But, so you rightly point out the regulators at the federal level, the FERC, they are not supposed to pick between fuel supplies.  That’s not their job.  Maybe that’s more of a role for the policy maker and DOE, you know, under the  Trump administration has certainly done that.  I mean, they’ve come out and said, we need to act on behalf of nuclear energy and coal.  Have they gone about it in the right way?

 

[00:17:11]

Maria Korsnick:  Well, again, it’s very challenging and as you mentioned, they’ve volleyed out sort of an early version of something which did not gain a lot of support.  But I give secretary Perry and his team quite a bit of credit because I believe that volley that they put out there created great conversation and I think that was welcomed in terms of an appreciation for hey wait a minute, as I mentioned, let’s not just casually shut down these baseload reliable plants before we have a very fulsome thought on where that leads us.  Because just imagine your own investment portfolio.  If I said, here is a great idea.  Be all invested in this one stock.  How do you feel about that? You say, it makes me nervous because what if that stock has a problem.  I want to make sure that I have a little bit in several different things because that way if this one has a problem, I’m okay, I’m covered.  You rationalize that risk as you would, as any of us would.  And our energy supply shouldn’t be any different.  You know, if we want to be overly dependent on any one particular source, okay, well then if that source has any perturbation in price etc., we have just translated that now all the way through the electric system.  So when we talk about as secretary Perry did, you know, nuclear and coal, it’s because that really adds some diversity and you say, well I have diversity with other things.  I got wind and I got solar and I love wind and solar and I welcome them into the marketplace.  But each of us brings a different attribute.  Some of us are 7/24.  Some of us aren’t.  Some of us have emissions, some of us don’t.  And that’s why there really needs to be a pedigree if you will imagine and say, let’s look at all these pedigrees and let’s make sure that we end up with a nice balanced mix.  So that I’m not only looking at price, I’m looking at that around-the-clock coverage and I’m also looking at emissions and carbon contribution.

 

[00:19:12]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  Are you okay being so lumped in with coal in this discussion?

 

[00:19:16]

Maria Korsnick:  So, it’s an odd marriage for us because we’re very, we’re very different.  In terms of base load around-the-clock coverage, there are some similarities but not so much when we talk about emissions and carbon.

 

[00:19:30]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, I mean, does it hurt nuclear at all to be in that, to be put in that same context?

 

[00:19:34]

Maria Korsnick:  Well, we like to have very many abroad support network and I would say that we’ve made really excellent strides with the environmentalist community who are actually as I mentioned before looking at the wonderful addition that nuclear brings, the high volume of energy we produce that’s carbon free and emissions free and so that’s bringing a lot of positive attention by the environmental community.  When you marry nuclear and coal, the environmental community not so much.  Because they look at coal for some of the emissions attributes and that’s a problem for them.  So, to the point, the marriage together is problematic for an important constituency for us which is the environmental community which we welcome and embrace and would like them to look more at the attributes that nuclear brings.  And we have some great recent examples.

 

[00:20:34]

Bill Loveless:  Well, I wanted to, I was gonna mention, oh the union of concerned scientists which an organization often a critic of the nuclear industry over the years did issue a report this fall that pointed out the significance of carbon free emissions and the role that nuclear energy plays in that.  And there have been other examples, I think here in legislation has been, was signed by the president in September to support, to provide more support for advanced reactors.  It enjoyed bipartisan support.  There is another bill pending to advance technology and nuclear energy that’s again signed by democrats and Republicans that were from senator capitol from west Virginia to send it to White House, one of the leading spokesman, I guess on climate change in the democratic party.

 

[00:21:23]

Maria Korsnick:  That’s right.

 

[00:21:24]

Bill Loveless:  For these years.  So, it seems the climate argument is getting some sound these days.  When I looked at nuclear in the past, I think the arguments the industry made on behalf of new plants and saving old plants is there is a lot of jobs involved and that certainly has been a prominent issue for the states in this regard.  But is climate taking on a bigger role now in the nuclear energy defense?

 

[00:21:56]

Maria Korsnick:  Clearly, I think the conversation around climate is increasing and you see that internationally quite frankly not just here in the United States.  There was a recent UN climate report that came out.  It also provided some recognition for nuclear that nature conservancy recently issued a report.  They actually looked globally and today if you look at the statistics for nuclear, we are about 8% of the global generation and then nature conservancy report, they basically said, hey, we’re really concerned about this and we think nuclear globally should be in the 33% range which just gives you a significant contribution that they see that nuclear should play.  So, to the point also recently there was an _____ [00:22:45] in Times Magazine between the CEO of Exxon Chris _____ [00:22:50] and the president of the McArthur Foundation also talking about the significance of today’s nuclear and its contribution.  So, absolutely, I think if you saw any one of these data points, you might say, it’s a data point.  You begin to see the collection of these data points and I would characterize it as a bit more as a movement quite frankly, a bit of a sea change towards the recognition for nuclear.  And at the same token, I would take a step back and say, the reason, we enjoy some of the bipartisan support that you mentioned is because there is lots of reasons to love nuclear and I don’t care which one you follow, I just want you to pick one.  So, there is clean air is a reason.  There is climate as a reason.  You know, there is the jobs reason.  There is the national security reason.  So we have a couple not to stereotype but, you know the democrats tend to fall in love with a certain grouping and the republicans tend to fall in love with a different grouping and that’s okay.

 

[00:23:53]

Bill Loveless:  So, you see, between the two signs then, you see the potential for building perhaps a greater body of support.

 

[00:23:59]

Maria Korsnick:  Absolutely.

 

[00:24:00]

Bill Loveless:  Than you’ve had in recent years.

 

[00:24:01]

Maria Korsnick:  Absolutely.

 

[00:24:06]

Bill Loveless:  The carbon issue is an interesting one.  As we sit here, there was a headline in the Washington Post this morning that said global carbon emissions reached record high in 2018.  This was from a group called the climate project and as you mentioned there have been a number of reports, very dire reports on climate change recently.  How do you plan to, I would imagine this is you mentioned the importance of the climate debate for the nuclear energy industry.  But I sense this is one that you would really be looking at and very closely.

 

[00:24:42]

Maria Korsnick:  Well, very much so and quite frankly, we have some datapoints that we can point to.  So, I’ll pick Germany as an example who went you know, really strong relative to renewables and that’s it.  We’re gonna close down our nuclear plants and okay, well, let’s look at the statistics for that.  Okay, carbon emissions have gone up.  Why is that? Well, because there was a lot of renewables, a lot of intermittency, it wasn’t sufficient for their grid.  They ended up having to build coal and a pipeline, quite frankly to Russia as their answer.  And so, all of that sort of not well thought out strategy ends up producing more carbon.  If you look at countries that have been very successful, I would point to France, I would point to Finland, I would point to Canada and what’s the backbone of their success? Strong nuclear industries.  And so, in any case here in the United States, look at the states as they have closed nuclear plants in every case.  The state carbon emission has increased, as actually have also their electricity prices, I might add.  And so, you know, it’s really, the data is there.  And it’s again one where we very much want to use that data and say, hey, we had some states, Wisconsin, Vermont.  They chose to close their plants.  They ended up with negative consequences as a result.  These other states, let’s look at that data and you don’t have to live that journey.  Live a much more positive journey like Illinois, like New York, like New Jersey, like Connecticut that are putting these policies in place.

 

[00:26:22]

Bill Loveless:  Right, but again those policies are disabled plants.  As you look forward, I mean, is it safe to say that we’re not gonna see another large nuclear plant along the scale of say the _____ [00:26:34] plant in Georgia.  1 gigawatt of capacity built in the United States again.  If we are gonna see any sort of build in this country in the years ahead, it’s gonna be more along the lines of something small, modular.

 

[00:26:49]

Maria Korsnick:  Yeah.  I would agree with that.  The journey in my mind’s eye as I look ahead would be that for one thing you need, the need of the power for these large plants and as I mentioned earlier, one of the challenges, we have is load really isn’t increasing so much.  So first, you need the demand and as you mentioned, what’s really exciting right now in nuclear, as we look ahead at some of the innovations, our nuclear is getting smaller and so, what’s exciting about that is nuclear today really kind of gets associated just with something large, you know, 1500 megawatt, you know, maybe a little larger and now, if I were to say, well, what if the nuclear of the future was 300 megawatts? What if there was 50 megawatts? What if it was less than 20 megawatts? Because now all of a sudden, you know, where you have say, a windmill that has what as its backup? Gas.  Well, so you have the windmill for that clean energy and then you connect it to a fossil fuel supply and that makes a lot of sense.  Okay, what if all of a sudden, there was a backup that was carbon free.  You know, could you have a small nuclear component on that? So these are kind of the exciting things that we could see of the future.  The small may be more portable nuclear as on option.  And then think about being in a very remote location.  Let’s imagine Alaska for a minute and imagine there is hard to get to places.  Some of these less than 20 megawatt reactors that we were talking about, we call them micro reactors, they need to be refueled maybe once a decade.  So, if it’s in a remote location and it’s hard to get to, you’re not having to get some sort of constant delivery of some nature to this location and you get that high reliability factor with it.  So, there is a lot of very exciting new technologies and I agree with you.  I think as you look ahead in the near term for what we are gonna build with nuclear, there are gonna be smaller ones but what’s interesting about the smaller ones is you can hook a couple of them together and so maybe it’s a 50 megawatt chunk but you can have a couple of those plants together.  So you want 50, do you want it to be a 100, do you want it to be a 150.  So it gives you a little bit of modularity in terms of tailoring it to what your needs are and when you say, that sounds great, it’s a decade away, is it two decades away?

 

[00:29:09]

Bill Loveless:  That was my next question.

 

[00:29:11]

Maria Korsnick:  See, I’m reading your mind.  So, no, it’s in the licensing process right now.  It’s halfway done.  It will be out of the NRC in just two years and in the meantime, are we talking about you know, where the optionality is to build one.

 

[00:29:11]

Bill Loveless:  Well, yeah, I think, _____ [00:29:26] for example is working through the NRC process.  It’s got approvals for its design.  It has a site at the Idaho National Laboratory.

 

[00:29:34]

Maria Korsnick:  That’s correct.

 

[00:29:35]

Bill Loveless:  It has a municipal utility, I believe, that’s agreed by the output of that plant when it comes online.  I don’t remember the time scale of that plant.  Is that the first that might go online?

 

[00:29:45]

Maria Korsnick:  That’s correct.  And it was with you, so I think they’re targeting the middle of the 2020s to have that plan up and running.  It’s still going through, as you said, there has been some agreements in place for some of the off take.  I think, they are looking for some additional partnerships for some additional part of the output for that plant.  But absolutely and this is a great example of where I believe, we need to partner a bit with the government, public and private partnerships to get some of these new technologies built.  So that people have an opportunity to sort of see and feel it and understand the compact nature of what this new technology is.

 

[00:29:45]

Bill Loveless:  Is the technology there in small modular reactors today, to make them commercially viable, you know, relatively large scale in 10-15 years or is it gonna require that much more technology development?

 

[00:30:44]

Maria Korsnick:  No, the technology is there today and I’ll tell you as you reflected earlier in terms of you know, the large plants and one of the challenges as we build these larger plants and I was actually recently at _____ [00:30:56] and it’s just an amazing large scale infrastructure project, like if you were building a city.  You know, there is probably, you know, eight cranes in the skyline, you know 7,000 people.  You know, part of this new built project.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  And so…

 

[00:31:17]

Bill Loveless:  It must have been a little bit disappointing for you too because you realize, you’re not gonna see this again.

 

[00:31:21]

Maria Korsnick:  Oh, it’s actually just daunting in terms of the task and the vastness, if you will of what it is that they’re putting, that they are putting together and quite frankly, if you look at these plans, even the plans that we have today, you know, they were built initially with the thought of, oh, they’re gonna operate for 40 years.  Well, then we went through a license renewal process and that 40 years became 60 years and now, we are going through it again and that 60 years is becoming 80 years.  You need that sort of appreciate that.  I get the challenges as people look at these today.  I’m saying, these plants are gonna live here much longer than sort of there is the initial appreciation before.  But going to your earlier point, there is construction challenges as you build these, you know, these large projects and so, as we go ahead when we talk about building them smaller, the other thing that you get when they are smaller is they’re a bit more in the factory.  So when we say, we aren’t concerned about that construction cost and the financial community looks at it and says, I’m concerned about whether or not those costs can be contained.  Well, now, you’re in a factory.  I can control the environment.  I can control the pace of things.  It gives a lot more stability in terms of that product that you’re producing.  So, I think it does a couple of things.  It’s smaller, so the investment is less.  But it also is an environment that gives you higher reliability, higher predictability on product.

 

[00:32:44]

Bill Loveless:  Will the workforce be there when these, say, you’re right and we see a number of these new reactors come online and the nuclear industry comes back in the sense and it’s very different than what it had done in the past.  Will there be the workforce? Will there be the nuclear engineers like you once were still are, once we were working nuclear.  Will there be enough of those students coming through the pipeline and work is available to keep this nuclear power industry going?

 

[00:33:10]

Maria Korsnick:  So that is one thing actually that we look at and I would tell you as I look at the pipeline today in terms of you know, who is in it and how many are in it, I would say, absolutely, we have the pipeline today.  Will I have it in ten years? Will I have it 15 years? I’m concerned about that.  And that’s really why I’d say the inflection point that we are at today, this conversation around the value of the current fleet and why it’s important to keep the current fleet because it builds the foundation upon which the advanced fleet is going to be built.  It’s very critical for the United States to worry about that pipeline to ensure that we have the pipeline and why is that? Because we’re not the only one building nuclear plants.  Okay, they are being built around the world.  And I’ll tell you China and Russia are very interested in and very gung ho on nuclear.  So, what do we want? Do we want to be in that conversation? Do we want the United States to be in that conversation? You bet, we do.  And why? As I mentioned earlier, we are the best operators in the world.  We want our safety standards.  We want our non-proliferation standards.  We want those experienced around the world.  So it’s very critical that we stay in this game.  We’re in the game today and my job is to keep us in the game.

 

[00:34:22]

Bill Loveless:  What would you tell a young, Maria Korsnick who was considering going into nuclear engineering or considering maybe an engineering field, maybe nuclear but there is a lot of other options too? What can you tell?

 

[00:34:32]

Maria Korsnick:  Okay.  So my daughter is 16.  We’re having this conversation.  And she absolutely wants to become an engineer.  She hasn’t picked her discipline yet.  But she absolutely wants to become an engineer and actually, I’ve talked with some of her friends as well.  And I’m very gung ho on engineering broadly.  Of course, nuclear specific and why is that? And I mentioned, I have a daughter.  She’s 16.  My son is 14.  Quite frankly, I’m very concerned as a mother, as a parent.  You know, what are we leaving our children? What legacy are we leaving our children? What sort of state of the earth quite frankly are we leaving our children and I think the next generation is gonna be even more interested in taking care of our resources and taking care of our air and our land and how we are using all of that.  And the more interested that they are in that, the better nuclear looks.  And so I think quite frankly, as we look ahead, there is wonderful opportunities for nuclear.

 

[00:35:34]

Bill Loveless:  You’re still enthusiastic.

 

[00:35:35]

Maria Korsnick:  Absolutely.

 

[00:35:36]

Bill Loveless:  Maria Korsnick.  Thank you for joining us on the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:35:39]

Maria Korsnick:  Great.  So, thankful to be here.

 

[00:35:42]

Bill Loveless:  Well, that’s our conversation.  I hope, you enjoyed it and we’ll continue to tune into the Columbia Energy Exchange throughout 2019.  Jason Bordoff and I enjoy hearing from you, so drop us a line or find some of our previous programs at Energypolicy.columbia.edu.  And follow us on social media at Columbiauenergy.  And if you have a minute, please give us a rating on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform.  It really helps us grow.  For the Columbia Energy Exchange, I'm Bill Loveless.  We’ll be back again next week with another conversation.