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Cracking the Nuclear Innovation Nut

Nick Touran

Friday, December 22, 2023

Dr. Chris Keefer  0:05  

Welcome back to decouple. Today I'm joined by returning guest, Nick Touran neck. It's been far too long. I think you were on a couple of years ago. You're, of course the great mind behind what is nuclear. It's been a huge onramp for many people in this community. So it's great having you back, man.

Nick Touran  0:26  

Yeah, thanks. So happy to be here. I've been really enjoying you know what you've done with the show. And it's, it's yeah, great honor to be back. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Chris Keefer  0:34  

Yeah. And I understand we kind of narrowly missed each other in in COP soup. I couldn't make it out. But um,

Nick Touran  0:40  

yeah, a lot of FOMO. Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Chris Keefer  0:44  

It certainly I got thrust into some sort of uncomfortable situations, just in terms of, you know, moderating panels that I felt radically under qualified to be on or, but it really forced me to kind of level up and I realized, you know, just how grateful I am for the community of kind of technical advisors and, and sort of, you know, nuclear consultants I can I can rely on. So it was really big growing experience for me. There are a couple of themes, though, that sort of came up for me, really broadly, in terms of the events and the gathering and the state of nuclear and sort of where things are headed right now. And, you know, I guess I brought this up a few times, but Ernie Moniz and his organizations that Efi forgot, it stands for the NTI, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, cleaner Taskforce. They produce this document called the nuclear playbook. And it's the sort of guide for embarking countries on how to go about what are the best practices to build a nuclear program and beyond it sort of being I mean, I think Enoch consulted on the Emirates consultant on it. But, you know, I again, I have like this sort of undertone of anti Americanism, you know, courtesy of my father, and I don't know, we're UNITED EMPIRE loyalists, like we, my family, we used to be American. And then we took the wrong side and sided with like King George. And anyway. So there's the old bitter resentment there anyway, it feels a little bit of anti Americanism. I won't dwell on that too much. But it was it was interesting. And in any case, I mean, most of the discourse that I see, in the US right now, around nuclear these last, you know, 10 years, there's a little bit of talk about Volvo, but mostly that sort of swept under the rug, and a lot of talk about advanced nuclear, next generation nuclear, and innovation, and certainly the US is Canada as well, I guess, you know, in terms of the pressurized heavy water reactor, but the US is sort of the home turf of the widely deployed conventional nuclear reactors that make up essentially almost the entire operating fleet around the world, the mighty PWM and DWR. And so I can tell there's a lot of pride still in, you know, we may not be deploying, but we have the best technology in the world. And certainly, that's sort of the line I've heard from Jigar, Shah and others. So given all that, and the focus on, you know, advanced reactors, it was really interesting that this document written by a number of American nonprofits and think tanks was telling embarking nations to be super technologically conservative, basically, Coles notes, were, you know, choose a design that's in operation with a proven track record. Sounds pretty, pretty sensible, you know, almost by definition, that's going to be you know, low enriched uranium, probably a PWI, probably at once fuel so once through fuel cycle, so we can avoid any of the messiness around any proliferation risks. So it's very conservative advice. And in my discussion with Ernie Moniz, I said, Well, you know, why don't you follow your own advice, kind of, in terms of, you know, established embarking nations and in many ways the US is a re embarking nation despite its massive nuclear fleet it has been struggling to deploy. Anyway. So all that made me come back to this question of innovation because obviously, you know, we need more than just electricity. We need process heat, we need some money to replace a variety of fossil fuel services, there's obviously use cases for again, process heat and other things in nuclear. In the early days of nuclear there was just it's, it's I was just reminding myself of some dates like the first human induced fission with like Lise Meitner. And Otto Hahn like 1938, the Fermi pile for you know, control chain reaction 42. And then we like jump into having a nuclear powered submarine like 10 years later. And I think Nautilus is like 52. And we have a commercial nuclear plant and 56, right, like, 14 years from the Fermi pile, we're splitting atoms in a controlled fashion to put electricity on the grid like that is an extraordinary set of innovations that occurred and so I'm wanting to sort of use you use your kind of encyclopedic mind your obsessive focus on nuclear for I don't know how many years to try and better understand that kind of environment of innovation, what it looked like, what the institutions were, what the institutional ecosystems were to sort of give us some insights into innovation in the 21st century now. So that is a you know, very verbose intro and I'm not sure where I kind of give you the on ramp to jump in there, but

Nick Touran  4:59  

Yeah, no, I mean, I've listened to Gary. Yeah, no, great, great topic, very happy to talk about it. I mean, as you know, I spend a lot of hobby, time poring over the archives, if you will, and try and understand those exact questions. How exactly did we do this in the past? What went on? And you know, what were who were the personalities, what were they like, and, you know, knowing, or studying history is valuable in the sense that there's lots to learn in there. And you can hopefully glean some advice for the future, of course, context changes as well. So things in the history in the past don't necessarily apply as much now, but still, I find it extremely valuable. And the more I've dug in, the more I've just been absolutely amazed at what was done, and what was documented, and how many, just hundreds of 1000s of pages, and hundreds of 1000s of people are working on these problems and putting forth ideas and stepping through them finding where problems were coming back. Iterating. It's just it's like, it's like looking into a huge world of something that we're trying to replicate. And so I always yes, I'm always looking, and they're looking for interesting ideas, and so on. So, absolutely happy to talk about it.

Dr. Chris Keefer  6:08  

And there's, there's kind of, you know, there's the famous sort of great man theory of history, and we can certainly, and I think we will touch upon groves with the Manhattan Project or Rickover, with the Nautilus and shipping port, or, you know, I'm not sure what, what else and obviously, those are important personalities. But also, again, just again, what were the kind of innovation environments like like, you know, there's no doubt that America is still kind of number one, when it comes to software, innovation and tech innovation. I think that's still a truism. Certainly, there's there's rising competition all the time. And there's a dynamism and competitiveness and innovation landscape, which is, you know, thriving out in Silicon Valley. But it seems like we're not making much progress. When it comes to innovating in advanced nuclear, I guess, outside of the, you know, like the simulations in the cat like the computer work, essentially, we're just we're just not building and deploying. Yeah,

Nick Touran  7:02  

yeah, we've built up a pretty tough environment to build and deploy. And yes, the deployment right right now is dismal. The total amount of electricity in the world or power, or energy, in general, made by nuclear is somewhat pathetic. I mean, it's 5%, or something like that of total world energy. And it's very far from what we had hoped originally, that the energy source would be capable of. And now we've sort of plateaued and we're seeing good things here and there, but how exactly do we get back onto that, that growth rate that's going to have a significant impact on decarbonizing providing world energy and so on, is something we really need to be seriously looking at. And, right, the there's definitely a common statement in the west or in United States, where it's like, okay, the existing reactors are old, those are your parents reactors, or your grandparents reactors, and they have problems and they have a bunch of baggage. But if you look over here, there's all these new types of reactors, innovative reactors, where we finally went ahead and tried to focus on the economics of the system. And so we're bringing it forward in a way that for the first time focuses on economics. And that's that attitude sort of irks me to a degree in the sense that, I mean, since you can find, again, 10s of 1000s of pages from 1944, on where they're saying, we need to focus for the first time on the economics in order to have an economically competitive power. So I mean, they had the Hanford pile, they had the submarines, eventually, those are nowhere near economical in terms of power generation. So the focus of the commercial industry has always 100% been laser focused on the economics, and to sort of come in and say, let's focus on economics. That was basically insulting. And anyway, it's, it does, I think it's I think it comes from a place of ignorance. And so that's why I'm always like, Hey, look at this, you know, enriched lithium cooled neck reactor from 1965, you know, and people like, oh, wait a minute, that's actually interesting. So there's, anyway, that's, that's definitely a baseline. people

Dr. Chris Keefer  9:05  

joke about sort of Back to the Future reactors, that a lot of these concepts were tried out in this kind of, again, heyday of, of innovation, it seems like a lot of the rhetoric around some of the advanced designs is, you know, infers that existing nuclear is not good enough. And we're gonna solve all these problems, we're gonna make nuclear proliferation proof, we're gonna make waste a non issue. You know, we're gonna make a reactor that's so passively safe, that, you know, monkey can run it. So it's really sort of building off this concept, that things things aren't good enough or that this technology is almost like fatally flawed, and maybe there's a way to innovate all of its problems away. And I think a focus of a lot of advocates, myself included is to say, I mean, every technology comes with some, some baggage and some issues that need to be solved, but with nuclear because of the association with weapons, these these issues are blown up into, you know, just a such a degree of hyperbole that it can sort of lead the engineers in the wrong direction in terms of maybe focusing more on economics, we're chasing these on unsolvable, you know, apocalyptic problems of something like waste, for instance?

Nick Touran  10:07  

Well, yeah, there's, it's, it's a tough balance. It's very complicated. And but there's a lot of truth to what you're saying. There are parts of Light Water Reactor fleets that are not totally optimal. And it is certainly technically possible and probably actually possible to do better in certain areas. And that is interesting and intriguing. But you know, that there's an issue where yes, as you're saying, if you say, well, like water reactors aren't safe enough, and so you need something safer? Well, that's basically an anti nuclear talking point, let's, or if, you know, waste is such a huge problem that you need to cut the volume of waste by maybe half by using a higher burn up reactor. Well, that's sort of admitting that well, the current waste that we have is an unsolvable problem. And so those can be counterproductive. And so yeah, I sort of wish what we had as most of the, I wish the industry was more focused on deploying the technology that we have already good to go fully licensed, full supply chain ready to build. And then there was, you know, the profits from that industry, ideally, would be funding advancements, and running ahead on trying to improve the fuel, improve the safety case, and so on incrementally, and that would be sort of ideal, but what we're seeing now is that there's sort of two separate industries, there's, there's the fleet, and there's the advanced nuclear startup companies that are basically completely separated from each other in a sense,

Dr. Chris Keefer  11:31  

what you're describing sense, sort of sounds a bit like, you know, situation with Russia, and its, you know, sodium fast reactor fleet or China and dipping into high temperature gas reactors and molten salt reactors as these kind of side projects. That seems sensible. But why don't we actually start doing some, some history lessons here? And, you know, I throw out a few of those dates. And again, they're completely astounding to me exactly, when you compare them to fusion and sort of like the first human induced fusion and sort of where we're at now, in terms of energy and energy out, but yeah, let's, let's just, let's just take us through a little bit of that early history, and I'm sure we'll all kind of veer off course, and all kinds of awesome tangents. And that's a okay.

Nick Touran  12:11  

Okay, yeah, just direct me, because there's a lot. And yeah, I usually have my archives to go off. So this, my, my memory isn't photographic. But I'll I'll do my best. So okay, where do we start? So you mentioned wealth fusion. I mean, there were fusion reactions discovered in the in the mid 30s, or early 30s. Or we knew that in an accelerator, we could fuse two nuclei and create a totally different atom. And it made a huge amount of energy use. And very, it was recognized very early on, that there's a bunch of energy in atoms, but no one knew how to get it out. And people thought people spent a lot of time even back then trying to figure out and inventing ways to try to fuse nuclei in a way that could potentially release energy was never no one was, it was impossible, it seemed impossible, there was no way to do it. Until, I mean, eventually, neutrons were discovered. And then fission was discovered in 1938. And this was very interesting, because with just a little low energy neutron, it's not a huge particle accelerator, it's just a little floating neutron comes along and goes into a uranium atom. And it just unlocks this huge amount of energy instantly, without any, it's just boom, it just opens right up. And that became, and then so that's a miracle in itself, that there's so much energy in the atom. And then the other miracle is that it releases two to three extra neutrons, which then can be used in a chain reaction. And so all of a sudden, everyone immediately realized this, this actually practical potential way to unlock vast amounts of the energy in the nucleus. And of course, because of the context, it was the World Wars. I mean, the conflict in Europe was coming up that was this was turned into a weapon first. Well, it was effort was focused on a weapon first, and along the way, Fermi indeed did demonstrate that you could get a chain reacting nuclear reaction in, as you said, December 2 1942. That's a famous date, as we'll come back to,

Dr. Chris Keefer  14:07  

so you obviously don't have time to like deep dive the man has Yeah, I'm gonna I will. I've got a Manhattan Project expert. We're going to talk to you shortly. But just yeah, let's let's talk about Yeah, I mean, again, just just I want to I want to answer this question of how we get from Meitner. Right, right. Let's just say the Nautilus let's just say PW era can submarine. Well, let me move it a little bit. Yeah, go for it. Just

Nick Touran  14:29  

a little bit on the Manhattan Project. So they, they had to make very pure graphite in order to go critical. And so there's this huge supply chain, they had to work with industry to make vast amounts of very pure graphite, there was a boron impurity that was that would prevent the chain reaction. So it became there's this establishment between nuclear standards. Purity standards are extremely sort of unbelievably high note there was less than a part per million of boron required. So there is an establishment of nuclear Are people in industry working together to establish obscenely ridiculous specifications? And then okay, let's fast forward 1944 Hanford piles are up and running. Those guys then did the world's first reactor innovation sessions they had a whole year where they sat around and came up with every crazy reactor you can imagine, basically, every reactor you've ever heard of has been published in 1944. In this thing they called the new piles committee, it was just like a bunch of scientists and applied physicists kind of playing around. So

Dr. Chris Keefer  15:28  

most people are familiar with the the Fermi pile just a whole bunch of graphite. And I mean, can you describe it quickly? And then just the Hanford pile? Is that similar different? Yeah,

Nick Touran  15:37  

sure. Yeah. So they, yes, it's they, I won't go into but they, they found out that if you, if you separate your fuel, they had sort of spheres or cylinders of fuel. And they found out that if you separate that fuel from blocks of graphite, you there's this huge neutronic advantage, basically, the neutrons can slow down in peace in the Moderator avoiding absorption in the uranium and then come back to cause efficient turns out, it's more likely to cause a fission if it's a slow neutron in natural uranium than a fast neutron. So it's just a bunch of like, imagine just a bunch of spheres. And about this vague of uranium in graphite blocks, maybe this big in this big lattice, it was, you know, as a squash court filled with little intersperse 3d grid of fuel and graphite blocks, and it had no cooling channels, it was very low power, they couldn't run it more than half a watt because the shielding requirements for dose the people around it to at a dangerous level. So they ran into half a watt and did a little bit of study. And then, and then that evolved to the graph to the Hanford pile by which was very similar, but they needed it to be much higher power, because the rate of plutonium production is proportional to how fast you're splitting atoms. And if you're splitting atoms faster, that makes a bunch of extra heat. They didn't want the heat, if they were making plutonium, they just want plutonium, but they have to move the heat somehow. And so they decided absolutely easiest way to do there was a big debate between helium coolant which they thought they needed and water coolant. And they decided Wigner decided it was possible to go critical with water with natural uranium. And so they it's a graphite thing, but instead of 3d spacing of fuel, they had tubes of fuel and they flowed water from the rivers actually direct once through cooling. So like water came from the river, went through the core and then went right back out to the river. There's no change or anything, anyway, and that thing, and then you could slide the slugs of fuel through the cylinders, and they would pop out the back into a giant fat, which they would then do chemistry on and pulled up plutonium.

Dr. Chris Keefer  17:37  

It sounds like it can do

Nick Touran  17:40  

something similar.

Dr. Chris Keefer  17:44  

These Hanford piles were plutonium production reactors.

Nick Touran  17:47  

Yes. And they were the first high power reactors with actual cooling Well, there was an air cooled mini reactor at Oakridge called X 10. But yes, they were plutonium production reactors, they were pretty low temperature, they didn't make steam that would be useful for making electricity. They had aluminum cladding that couldn't go to very high temperature without corroding and so on. So yes, they were very, they were just for making plutonium, but they were pretty big. They were 200 megawatts, and they made three of WoW, right in a row.

Dr. Chris Keefer  18:19  

So you're, you're saying you're saying that all sorts of conversations happened around this? This? Yeah. So

Nick Touran  18:25  

yeah, let me so then the conversation turns like, okay, we're making plutonium for weapons. That's horrible. Let's, how can we do something good for civilization with this technology? And that's when the conversation turned to like, how should we make economical electric power? What can we do to make actually, you know, how can we compete with fossil fuel, and that's where all these crazy ideas started coming in. And they had reactors for it with gaseous uranium coolant that would compress with a piston. And then, you know, like, basically like a reciprocating engine, they had a bunch of heavy water reactors, where pistons would slide the slurry of fuel from one side to another going through a reflector region, which would go critical and then cause power to come. I mean, that the craziness level and sort of the ingenuity, it was just astounding, but eventually, you know, people were like, Alright, let's get serious, what's actually going to work. And there was this big moment when there was a realization that a water cooled water moderated reactor could actually be neutronic ly interesting. This is sort of an interesting story. I don't know if you want to go into it. But when it first they thought water in a lattice of fuel was nowhere near it was point nine needing 1.0 on k infinity for natural uranium, but there was an effect that they totally missed out, which is that if you bring the fuel close together, fast neutrons can go from one pin to another and cause efficient in the neighboring pin. This effect doesn't happen in graphite, because the fast neutrons rarely make it to another piece of fuel, but in a really tight lattice. Now you have a fast fission effect and that brought k infinity of natural uranium water cooled water right Every director almost to one like it was so close to one that it became interesting. And so people like Alvin Weinberg were like, wait a minute, regular water in a very much more compact core with just regular water as both the coolant and the moderator is super convenient. I mean, that's everybody knows water, we have water equipment. It's very compact, what an interesting potential concept. And so he started promoting that. And of course, eventually the Navy got interested in that. And he met and worked with Admiral or Captain Rickover at the time anyway, Rickover, whatever his rank was in 1946. And that's when we really started kicking off the development of the first naval power reactor. However, even then, it was that there was no one thought that the water cooled water moderated reactor would be economical at all. And there was when people said, well, let's try to commercialize a water reactor, there was huge pushback against it, because it was thought, because it's so inefficient with uranium, it doesn't it's not a breeder, it only burns half a percent of the natural uranium. And at the time, they thought uranium was extremely scarce. And so the absolute focus was on breeder reactors. That's why EBR one was the first electricity producing reactor, it was a they built a breeder back then, because they thought the only way to have commercial power would be to use breeders, because the fuel costs would just be too ridiculously high for everything else. And so I

Dr. Chris Keefer  21:26  

guess you could justify, like a naval nuclear propulsion, and even even in a world of constrained uranium, because of just the incredible advantages that, you know, a nuclear powered submarine gives you so even if it's an economical, we can divert it for a strategic benefit. Is that Yes, the the rationale?

Nick Touran  21:41  

Absolutely, yeah, you don't care about competing with coal in a submarine, because you have the nuclear advantage of not needing oxygen. And having, you know, decades of fuel inside one thing makes it for the first time ever a true submersible. And they went on these great adventures around the world under, you know, submerged in one trip and up to the North Pole, and so on. And that's only made possible because of the technical advantages of using nuclear power in a submarine. And so the cost doesn't matter. And also, you're never going to, even if you're extremely inefficient, with uranium, it doesn't matter because you're not powering the world. But submarines, you're just making a couple of 100 Max to defend yourself or whatever. So yes,

Dr. Chris Keefer  22:22  

so So again, what's special about this environment? I imagine innovation benefits from having, you know, I'm not sure what percentage of GDP was going into the Manhattan Project, for instance, or these Hanford piles, but obviously, you know, flows of cash, good flows of cash, good. And then, you know, as I understand that, we've sort of moved through eras, right, we had sort of the more of the sort of chemistry era preceding this, in which, you know, a lot of great discoveries were made, I think, mostly, many in Germany, for instance, a number of different processes, Fisher, trop, Haber, Bosch, etc, all kinds of dyes and medicines and things like that we move into this kind of Age of physics. And we've kind of proceeded in, I guess, more, more recently into an age of biotechnology and, you know, decoding the human genome and on into software. So is that like, another element, I guess? It's just the human resources. This is kind of where it's at. This is the exciting area, if you're really, really smart, you're gonna go into this area, but what else? Or if you have to sort of come up with like, three or four reasons why all this innovation happened? What would they be? Okay,

Nick Touran  23:22  

let's see. So yeah, great point. And that's absolutely the that Eye of Sauron of innovation was on nuclear at that time. So what are the things so national imperative is one thing I mean, do this by any means or be destroyed by the Nazis is a pretty good motivator. And that built up a lot of alignment and sort of brought in very centrally controlled, nobody knew what the other person was doing type Manhattan Project stuff. And it was an unbelievably huge expense. Incredible. An incredible achievement. And so that was, I mean, that really is a first thing that laid the groundwork that had lots of people trained up, lots of industries scaled up, and so and then, and then boom, hey, world, we have created or discovered an absolute new, we have a secret weapon that no one's ever heard of. I mean, it's straight out of science fiction, our scientists went and unlocked a fundamental power of the universe. And it's going to change everything. And everybody, I mean, every comic book, every high school mascot was nuclear related in the early 50s. And I mean, it was just it was extremely interesting. Everybody poured into it, Popular Science had dozens of articles about, you know, nuclear power, this nuclear power that the new The Jetsons future was here and everybody and went into it. And then but and then the government kept pouring more and more money in originally for Cold War reasons, you know, ramping up weapons capability, building more reactors for weapons, and then building the submarine system. That was another huge industry that was a government imperative. And so that has built up this massive instance infrastructure, huge industries. There's quotes from Rickover in Congress, or he's saying they're like, Well, are you having trouble finding material And he says, like fuel. I mean, they say no, not just that the legs are conium. And he's like, we built an industry of zirconium. I mean, they had to go out and make their, you know, super pure zirconia, which, again, it's high temperature, corrosion resistant, low neutron absorbing materials. So they built by government imperative for military reasons, an entire supply chain. And then everybody was super excited about it, everybody went into it, as you're saying. And everybody wanted to be the one who brought forth this world changing energy source that was going to bring forth a high energy future and all the Sci Fi things that come with it. So I mean, we can't under we can't understate how important those those like two or three government programs in a row are the Manhattan Project, cold war weapons complex, and submarine propulsion, not to mention army reactors and Air Force reactors are also huge programs. So I mean, there's just this unbelievable injection of public money into it, and then a bunch of people who really wanted to turn it into something that would be beneficial for civilian purposes as well. That's, that's what happened, then whether or not that's required or essential for continued innovation. Now, it's a little bit I don't, it shouldn't be, I mean, it would be great to get more people excited into it. And that is happening. I will say like with the nuclear startup thing, it's become cool again to work. In nuclear. Certainly, Fusion has always been cool. But now there's a lot of there's money coming in from private sources. Billionaires effectively are saying, I want to change the world. And I want to help out with some kind of now it's driven by climate concerns, energy scarcity. So let's, let's fund all these people going in. And so now there's a bunch of cool people, you've got young folks are coming cool nuclear things, both in fission and fusion. And that's, so that's kind of bringing that element of it back in a sense, but that's, that's rushing ahead. So I can stay? Yeah,

Dr. Chris Keefer  26:56  

I mean, something I've been reflecting upon, and it's just seems like this would be a really basic thing to do is to look around the world, who's succeeding at deploying right now? And what are the characteristics of those, you know, socio economic, political systems? What are those kinds of ecosystems of private companies and public companies and, you know, departments of energy, etc? How does it how's it all working out? And, you know, the degree to which those are replicable in the US, maybe in the 1960s us 1970s Us, but there has been a real transformation in terms of the idea of the role of government, in the economy. And, you know, I think in strategic industry, and as we've offshored, a lot of heavy industry even more so. But, you know, again, if you look, if you look at Russia, China, I'm thinking of Rosa, Tom, and just this vertical integration that goes all the way down, it's kind of sounds similar to what you're describing here, there's a bit of a national imperative, you know, I mean, the weapons thing is obviously still there. But also, we want to export nuclear reactors, we want to do it efficiently. We want to be the number one in the world on that, we're going to make sure that we've got everything in terms of the whole fuel cycle, the waste management, the reactors on deck, and we can sell them around the world. Without objectives in mind, and that kind of like singular focus, you can see that that might be pretty efficient, despite claims that, you know, state state ownership or stewardship of a process, by definition makes it inefficient, ineffective for an innovative, I'm not sure what your what your thoughts are there. Yeah,

Nick Touran  28:19  

I mean, you're right. I mean, if you look around the world, and he was doing well, they're all vertically integrated state owned organizations, even in Korea. I mean, its utility and vendor combined. You know, KEPCO is sort of they, they design it constructed, sometimes operate it. And that's how it was in France. That's how that's how it certainly isn't China and Russia. And so that's, that's certainly it works. And it's working right now. But there's yeah, there's, I mean, with the Democratic Western nations, it's just not the style of operation that people want to run huge projects in, unless there's some except, you know, if there's a Manhattan project or an Apollo project, so it's like, we sometimes choose to focus on that. But I think there's enough controversy around nuclear, I mean, it's had a whole history and plenty of baggage and so on that now there isn't a unified national alignment with no opposition or minimal opposition that says, Yeah, let's just do sort of a centrally planned nuclear deployment, let's pick a standard technology that we know works and build that, that build back up that supply chain, and start trying to deploy them and compete with these state owned actors who are exporting DVRs to Nigeria and so on at extremely low cost. Like that's hard to compete with.

Dr. Chris Keefer  29:34  

What do you think about what do you think about this? Because again, I'm trying to read to my ideas and not be too simplistic right. And so, you know, and I've heard pushback that hey, you know, the US bucked this trend there they didn't have a France like deployment which again, that's not communism, that's again, I think the the term and it sounds horrible and English is dickish Uzma but like basically or debt is just like a roll of the state directing things. And again, that was not a Manhattan plot. but it was in response to a major energy crisis where they had no gas, they had no coal, they were burning oil and the price of oil went up. And so there was a real strategic energy security imperative to get something going fast to underpin your entire power generation system. So one can see, the West is capable of going, Hey, there's a role for the state here when it's when it's a national security or National Energy Security motivation. But in the US, you know, the historic deployments 6070s and 80s. There wasn't some big state led project, as far as I understand, but what do you think about this idea that a utility is kind of like a state, you know, if it's a large enough utility has a huge rate base? That's kind of like having a tax base? You know, that there's some similarities anyway, in terms of even a big private us utility and in a regulated market? Yeah.

Nick Touran  30:43  

I mean, that's a tough call. I mean, first of all, not to jump on this. But there was a massive, I mean, the program by which light water reactors were commercialized in United States was driven by a cooperative government program called the the power demonstration reactor project. And it was a huge project that developed all sorts of different kinds of reactors. And it just turned out that the Light Water Reactors outperform dozens of other types of non Light Water Reactors. And we can, we can talk about that I want to read so so it's 19, early 1950s, the UK has Calder Hall, they're building a big power plant with a gas cooled reactor, Soviets have just announced that they've got a little five megawatt reactor on the grid and the US Congress, like we are falling behind the other countries, we need to develop nuclear power, because cold war because we're gonna fall behind technologically and whoever develops, this is going to have a huge advantage and so on. So there's this big interest across the board developing economical nuclear power. And so the Atomic Energy Commission created this congressional support something called the power demonstration reactor project, it was a reactor project for power demonstration. And they put out three rounds of sort of request for bid and they said, hey, who of you out there would like government assistance, developing a reactor that's going to maybe compete with coal, economically, coal was the only competition at the time really. And so what happened was consortiums of utilities came out and they paired up with like a reactor vendor. So maybe you get like 12 utilities partner up with with Atomics International and they put together a proposal and they sent it to the Atomic Energy Commission that says we're gonna build a low pressure, sodium cooled graphite moderated high temperature reactor is going to be super high thermal efficiency use almost no uranium at all uses 1% enriched uranium, and we're gonna, it's gonna it has a high likelihood of achieving commercial parity. And then the AC would look at me like, yeah, okay, we agree they had criteria, is it likely to upset coal? How much is it going to cost us and how mature is the technology already based on previous reactor experiments? And so a bunch of reactors came through, and the Atomic Energy Commission approved lots of them, and they would say, Okay, we will, at the time, only the Atomic Energy Commission could own fuel. So what they, what they did is they would lease fuel to the utility, and then charge them for usage of that fuel, so light, and they, they would take the fuel back and reprocess it. And they all they repress pretty much everything because it was so it was so rare at the time. And so they said, Okay, we'll waive your fuel usage charges will waive your heavy water charges, we will subsidize a bunch of r&d related to it, but you will finance the design, the construction operation, owning the facility. And so it was kind of a lot of them came in the utility consortium would pay 30 million time and energy commission would pay 5 million or something like that. It's all over the place. But there's a big variety of that. And people came in with, like I said, sodium graphite reactors. Fermi, one sodium cooled fast breeder reactor was 26 utilities who had come together to do it, they form a corporation. But but there was more government support with that than with more r&d. So the government was providing lots of r&d, and the fuel charges, but it was really it was by and large, in the in that first round, it was by and large, coming from these big risk diversified consortium consortium of utilities. Well, then, small utilities were getting involved in Congress was told to do it. I mean, they wanted to have it go out in rural America too. And so but none of the small utilities could finance or build or operate their own reactor. And so they did have round two. And in round two of the power demonstration reactor project program, the AEC would build own and operate the nuclear side of it, the utility would build mode, operate the turbine and power conversion and provide the site and the land and all the wires and so on. And then the AC would run the plant for five years and then sell it to the utility if the utility wanted it, or the utility could just decline it, at which point the ACC was mandated to tear down the reactor. And so there's lots of examples. So and that history is littered with reactors that the utility was like nah, like, I don't want it so like how

Dr. Chris Keefer  34:59  

long so so sorry give us some example. Yeah

Nick Touran  35:02  

so Hallam, my favorite reactor was in Nebraska. It's the sodium cooled graphite moderated reactor really genius idea it was. It's elegant. I mean, I agree that it's like highly likely to be super economical. So it's not a sodium cooled fast reactor to sodium called Slow reactor because it has graphite blocks in it. And again, that gives you all the high temperature, low pressure advantages of sodium coolant. But you only need like one or 2% enriched uranium instead of Hey Lou or plutonium or whatever. But it was early in the sodium world and the sodium in the graphite moderator cans leaked and sodium came in and it swelled. And so they had operational challenges. It just wasn't operating effectively. Even though the concept was brilliant. And on paper, it was absolutely mind blowing. But the thing did not write well, it could have been fixed. But by the time it came for the utility to choose to buy it in Nebraska, they were just like, Nah, we don't want it, they actually built a coal plant that fed into the same exact turbine because that high temperature machine was compatible with the steam from a coal plant. So it was literally it was a nuclear plant on one side coal plant on the other side, and one turbine and the coal plant on it whenever the nuclear plant was down. And since the coal plant was feeding it so much, they were like forget it. We don't care about that. So they so now that coal plant is still in operation, and the nuclear plant says so there's a you can look at the satellite pictures like green field or the nuclear plant was turbine coal plant and a big mile long train. But anyway, another example is pizza. Pizza is a small town in Ohio and they the city of Pico this little tiny town put in a proposal that said we want an organic cooled organic moderated reactor, this is using like some kind of a hippie oil. Yeah. But it's like a, it's called Tarantal. The it's a it's like an oil type of mineral oil type of coolant, which has a lot of again, high temperature, low pressure, that thing but the problem has radiation instability. So radiation sort of breaks the organic chains and you get it turns into tar and gunks up everything. And so that reactor similarly they built it, they operated it had problems they were they said they couldn't fix it, they probably could have fixed it, but the utility was like hell no, get that thing out of my face. And they shut it down. And anyway, and what others there was Peach Bottom high temperature gas cooled reactor was in that program, a couple of superheat VW RS bonus and Puerto Rico was part of that program. There were Fermi one obviously had operational troubles with the core melt and other just operational issues. It just was a premature time for sodium cooled reactors back then that was way back. And so again, and again. And again, these advanced quote unquote non water reactors are just hard to operate even though they were awesome on paper they didn't perform. And so people shut down, you know, it did perform was the regular water cooler, the PW RS and VW has performed beautifully. I mean, they had a couple of problems. But compared to the dawn water systems, they were like, awesome. And so everybody was like, hmm, as good as even though they don't, they aren't that efficient with their uranium. It looks like there's a lot more Uranium than we thought. And so maybe that issue isn't so much a pressing concern, we found tons of uranium in the West, everybody, you know, there's an I Love Lucy in the 50s, or they go out uranium hunting, like it was that big of a deal. Like everybody's out finding uranium. And so it's like, Well, okay, if we don't care that much about uranium efficiency right now. And these reactors are operating extremely reliably, and they're relatively easy to run, then let's just build those. And so you have this graph, I made a little plot of the reactors, and you can see just a couple years, couple years, couple years, couple years, and then there's a bunch that go out into the 90s of these little tiny 50 And so megawatt PW RS and VW Rs. And that's what happened like That's why utilities chose VW RS and VW RS over all the other higher performance reactors higher performance on paper that were just too difficult to operate. They didn't operate well. And that's really why we have Peter and BWS today.

Dr. Chris Keefer  39:05  

Is that Is that what like recovers famous paper reactor letter was describing or that one was it written? What was it? Yeah, the context in which he wrote

Nick Touran  39:15  

that that's something I've wondered. So that was no, so that letter was written in 1953? Or is this program was happening from like, you know, 55 to 65, or 70. So that letter was from before this program. So I've wondered like, how the hell did Rickover know, to write the paper reacting to a memo in 1953? I mean, how many reactors were there? Well, so and I think I have a lead on it at this point. So when he went to, he went to Oak Ridge, he was sent to Oak Ridge to learn about nuclear technology right after World War Two, with a group of six Navy officers. And he was sat there with Alvin Weinberg and all these scientists that what became or sort it's the prototype of any nuclear reactor or nuclear engineering university program they had at Oak Ridge to begin with, and they went and they they spent a lot of time designing kind of goofy reactors. They had like a senior design project almost. And so but their their big focus in 1946 was this thing called the Daniels pile. It was a pebble bed high temperature gas cooled reactor developed by a guy named Farrington Daniels in a couple of years earlier in like 1944. And it was yeah, it's basically exactly a pebble bed reactor, helium cooled. Try so like pebbles. And he Rickover was looking at it. And the scientists were like, look, it's beautiful. It's high efficiency, high temperature and so on. And Rickover was like kind of staring that and he started asking questions he came from he had an extremely mature engineering background at this point. And we can we can rewind on his history in a second. But I mean, he had been he's, he's been in the engine room of ships for decades. And he knows like how equipment works on shifts and shipping environments. And he starts asking about helium leakage radiated helium, what happens if the gas leaks? How do you stop it? How do you repair it? What happens if this breaks, what's the maintenance look like? And he quickly realized that that reactor was just a crazy idea had no basis in reality. And so he told me at the time, which isn't totally true, it was developed later and works fine ish. But at the time, he was like, This is not what we want for submarines, like this is not any work. So he got his navy people to stop working on that thing and just sort of study and learn and ask questions. And that's when he that's where he talked to Weinberg and eventually went with, he didn't know if he wanted water. At first, he had to choose between he did have to candidate coolants was water and sodium. And they built a water cooled submarine and they built a sodium cooled submarine. Those were the first sort of two big projects. And it turns out, well, so anyway, but that was after the memo. So in 1953, he was he must have been referring to, like the scientists that or sorry, because he wrote in his later memoirs, and his writings on this, that he's like, he lost trust in scientists at that point. He knew scientists were nice, and he knew they had a lot to say. But he realized that they did not understand the practicalities of maintenance, operation, reliability, quality. And so he totally he shifted in his thought, and I'm pretty sure that that memo was written based on discussions from or sort and the following couple of years where people came out with reactor ideas, because they did, you can find some of the great reactor designs come out of those early publications where they have like design studies, that's sort of like, again, if it wasn't in the 1944, it was coming out of Oakridge, that school in the in the late 40s, basically, molten salt reactors and so on.

Dr. Chris Keefer  42:44  

Right, right. Got it, because so many questions spinning in my head out of those questions. One, one thing, I think, I think James Collinson brought this up when sort of talking about the relative performance of of the water, moderate of water cooled reactors, and basically was saying, listen, like, since the Industrial Revolution, we've got 250 ish years of managing, you know, pressure vessels and high temperature steam. You know, we've had a chance to troubleshoot that for hundreds of years, and we just haven't had that with, you know, the molten salts or with, you know, liquid sodium or high temperature gas reactors, is that sort of a similar read that we just need more time to troubleshoot some of the peculiarities of this technology, or are there you know, is there a larger stream of experience that I'm not aware of using molten salts in some other way? Or are using sodium as a coolant? Is this just particularities to nuclear?

Nick Touran  43:38  

I mean, I wouldn't I don't I certainly don't think we will never develop a fully reliable sodium or molten salt or gas cooled system. I mean, it should, there's nothing inherent about the physics that would prevent that from being possible. And indeed, I mean, I've worked on those kinds of things for years, thinking that it will be meaningful and helpful. So yeah, I think it certainly is just a matter of finding an environment where you can shake it down long enough in sort of fleet mode, not on paper, not in a small experiment, but like in fleet mode, to be able to really work through the problems in a way that doesn't kill you from the valley of death in terms of like, Oops, that was supposed to be fully commercialized, and it's not competing with natural gas right now. And so let's shut it down. Like it's, it's too hard to get that prototype going, and then have some problem that's gonna cost the price of the prototype to fix and everyone's just like, Nah, I'm not gonna do it. So how do you get over that? I don't really know. And there are there are other I mean, there are some inherent, well, there's pros and cons of all the coolants. But I mean, there's things like sodium activates and becomes 1000s of times more radioactive than water. And so in a submarine environment, you have this much larger source term just from the activated coolant that you have to shield than water. And so in certain environments, I mean, that's challenging. Like there's no way there's no magical shielding material like you have to put in more shielding to deal with highly activated cooling. So if you're so that those kinds of things, and Rickover will tell stories about when they had the Seawolf, and they parked it next to, you know, water cooled reactor, the people in the water cooled reactor, we're getting more dose from the activated sodium. And so it's just like that that's sort of an inherent problem. But that's, that's specific to a summary, you can build as many children as you want around a commercial power plant. So yes, there's there's no reason that it's not it's certainly possible to make a well operating molten salt gas cooled or so you said,

Dr. Chris Keefer  45:32  

there's you said, there's no, like the physics, you know, there. There's no kind of physics based reason, but is there like an engineering based reason and like, I liked that dichotomy of Rickover, as this experienced mechanical engineer going to I forget the office or whatever, and saying, Oh, the scientists, right. And I, it reminds me a little bit of fusion where it's like, you know, it's an incredible science project. But you know, a lot of these machines are just, you know, like tacos, they're just trying to eat themselves, like, they're these machines that are trying to destroy themselves. So is there from an Are they just harder from an engineering perspective, or wealth, or just more troubleshooting, it's,

Nick Touran  46:05  

they're absolutely harder. From an engineering perspective, I mean, all the coolants we're talking about in terms of maintenance, it's harder to go in and maintain a coolant when the when there's if you get in there, like humans need air to survive. But if sodium interacts with air, you know, it has a combustion reaction. And so maintenance is more challenging, it's just actually more challenging. Same with molten salt. If you have a molten salt that's either activated or has fuel in it, and you want to go chop up a pipe and replace it. Well, it's easy in a water cooled reactor, you drain the water and put the new person in weld it, but try doing that in like an extremely radioactive environment. It's much is it is technically more challenging. And so, but there's advantages, I mean, you can have these massive performance increases if you do it. So there's a big it's a tantalizing goal. And there's potential there. But yes, the actual when you focus on reliability maintainability, those things are extremely challenging and require a lot of work. And it's not like you can't just build one of them and think it's a sure thing, you have to get into fleet mode to really understand the overall reliability. So it's, it's really hard to jump into that.

Dr. Chris Keefer  47:11  

Often I'll hear like, well EBR to prove that you know, this my reactor concept is fine and ready to for commercial operations with the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment proves that this is a mature technology, and it's ready for deployment. And I can see you kind of chuckling but, you know, the Russians have had a sodium fast reactor program going I think, for like 940 years at this point. Yeah.

Nick Touran  47:32  

completely misinformed. Yes, or five or whatever. Yeah. And I'm

Dr. Chris Keefer  47:37  

fascinated by this idea of just reactor years of operation. So from what I understand like the water cooled water moderated systems have something like 17 or 18,000 years of reactor years of operation in which to troubleshoot and learn. What's your sense of those numbers for Molten Salt Reactors are sodium faster and gas?

Nick Touran  47:54  

I know it for settings or gas reactors. I know the number for sodium fast reactors is around 450 reactor years or so lots of countries have built lots of sodium cooled reactors, most of them fast reactors, only a few of these sodium cooled slow reactors have operated? Yeah, so it's like 450, or something like that is in sodium for molten salt. I mean, it's like, like, four. It's like all Molten Salt Reactor Experiment. Yeah. There was also there's the Aircraft Reactor Experiment, which ran before that, that was a Molten Salt Reactor ran for about four days. So that one doesn't add too many years. And then actually, China has completed a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, very similar to MSRP. And that's been licensed to turn on, I'm waiting for that thing to turn on any moment. So they will, they'll fire that thing up, and they'll get more information similar to what MSRP was providing, and hopefully advance the state of knowledge. I'm sure they will. I'm glad they started it up, or they're, they built it. But um, so anyway, that'll go from four to 10. Hopefully soon, Gaskell directors is lots more experienced Germany had a couple up and running, or at least one that AV AVR. Anyway, I'm slightly rusty there. And we had Peach Bottom, we had 14 brain, which were big reactors, we had a couple little small reactor experiments along those lines as well. So But anyway, it's not much. It's a lot less than sodium. Sodium is like the second most mature or experienced technology. And as you say, like the Russians have done it continuously for since the 60s 50s or 60s. And they I mean, they're in a situation where they never shut down their sodium program. They've been running commercial, the only commercial sodium cooled fast reactors, and they're still building PWM VV ers, and in fact, they've said things like, well, we can't quite get our sodium cooled reactors to economically compete with our own Pressurized Water Reactors. And so but they have certain advantages in terms of transmuting waste and breeding fuel and so on, that we think we're going to have like a few of these sodium cooled reactors providing fuel cycle services to a big fleet of PW Rs. And that's kind of a traditional fuel cycle idea that lots of big national nuclear planning organizations will show these days. So that they I mean, even after all that experience, they're kind of saying like, well, it's we're still struggling. And maybe we can get economically competitive when we go bigger to the to the bn 1200.

Dr. Chris Keefer  50:23  

But it just goes to show modular, but

Nick Touran  50:27  

they're going large, large, large, they think that's what they need to do. But then they're also saying, Well, maybe, you know, let's try this LED cooled thing. And so they're doing lead cooled reactors as well, just because maybe they maybe they're concerned that they're hitting some kind of wall in terms of economic performance with their sodium systems. So you anyway, but that, you could argue that like, okay, maybe sodium is not as economic. So let's try something else, no one's gotten even close to that level of experience with something like a molten salt reactor that we just don't know, we certainly proven that you can run a heat generating molten salt reactor with MSRE. But we haven't proven that you can build a reliable, well operated power plant that is completely unknown, it shouldn't be doable, but someone has to prove it. And the utilities are very conservative, and they aren't going to there. They want it to be proven before they go build a bunch of them.

Dr. Chris Keefer  51:17  

So with all this in mind, why I mean, I'll forgive Andrew Yang, US presidential candidate who basically just molten salt, thorium reactors are going to save the world. But in terms of, you know, people that I think are and maybe should be better informed, and I'm trying to be very diplomatic, very popular to put my foot in my mouth, but like, why is the Gestalt in the US right now around like, what the way I'm trying to explain it is, well, there's this great pride as there should be in the development of the PWM DWR, America has been the foremost sort of origin of of nuclear reactor technology development. And we can't deploy. So we'll just cling to that pride and say, Hey, we're the most innovative, we're generating lots of cool new concepts, but like, the whole focus seems to be in terms of again, this, calling it Gestalt that might not be the best word. Right. But in terms of the overall environment, and what's being talked about in the US, you know, I think it's very advanced. Hey, Lou excetera focus. Is that just because of not paying attention to history and to, you know, for instance, what's what's been happening in Russia and having this PW fleet as the basis and running some experiments on the side? And yeah, what's your take culturally on? Yeah, on culturally,

Nick Touran  52:30  

what's happening? My take on this, my opinion, from what I've seen or talked to people about is that, yeah, there are people who are coming in saying, hey, nuclear should be good. But nuclear has a bad rap. And so I'm going to do, as I was saying earlier, I'm just gonna do something so much better, because I'm so much more innovative. And those people in the past and we have this phrase, it's like, those guys were idiots. Like the people, these hundreds of 1000s of people in old nuclear, like didn't know about economics. So they didn't think about manufacturing, which is, is, so it's there's an arrogance, that's just wrong. It's just misinformed, or they think those people weren't innovative enough. And now I the big genius that I am, I'm going to come in and push out something that just blows away the performance of the people in the past. And I think they truly believe that. And that's one of the reasons I like, again, to dwell on nuclear history to show how exotic and sophisticated and economically focused people were not really just to prove the point that there's lots to be learned and the knowledge level starts very low. And the troubles that you've run into are not obvious at first, and just running an MC and P model of a car that goes critical. And wrench for a couple of years means nothing at all. I mean, you might as well, I mean, you're not you haven't even started, you have to really do so much more than that. And so it's just a lack of sophistication, lack of knowledge of the history, and an arrogance that makes people think that they're just going to swoop in here with a team of three people and pound out a revolutionary nuclear technology now, so that, I mean, there's also the idea that large lightwater reactors in the US are just stalled out like no utilities ever gonna buy another one that people say, I don't think that's true. And I hope that's not true. And I wish people more people were focused on innovating around how to deploy more reactors that we already have. I mean, if we want to decarbonize rapidly, we should focus most of the effort on rapidly deploying known technology and a little bit of the effort on what's the next thing once we sort of have that big problem solved that would be sort of my ideal, but it reflects the nation's focus I mean, the people in general don't know a thing about nuclear history obviously, like who knows about it, just a bunch of and and they feel like old nuclear is like old and bad. And so when the weather turns out that part of civilization who has lots of money and wants to invest that money in helping in the energy world they think well, the right thing to do would be advanced nuclear, as opposed to, no one wants to get in there and like help make the lightwater reactors more efficient or like deploy the next, the next light water reactor in a way that's bringing in the South Koreans to an APR 1400 In the US, that would be an awesome startup company, I wish somebody made that startup company. But that that's just not

Dr. Chris Keefer  55:26  

in my humble experience, which is very little, you know, but also being based up here in Ontario, where I think there's some credibility with an organization like OPG, doing these candidate refurbishments, which are not building a new reactor, but it's very complex work. Tons of you know, the critical path is insane, so many inputs, so many opportunities for things to go wrong and pulling it off. And that's not sexy, or it's not really giving you a VC type return. But that kind of institutional excellence seems to be what ultimately makes nuclear deployable and at least the capital expense part economical, and hey, the operating expenses, well, you need that kind of institutional excellence and, and whatnot. And I think it's far easier to kind of get wedded and imagine ideas like well, some guys in a lab, you know, doing some computer sims are gonna make this huge breakthrough. And frankly, I think a lot of that money that's coming into nuclear from the VC side is coming out of Silicon Valley, and have had miracles of disruption in terms of technology components, software. And so it's it's totally natural that you know, they would see nuclear be techno optimists, you know, want to make some money, but also want to, you know, save the world and, and sort of see this frustratingly slow moving technology and say, Hey, can we can we disrupt the sun? I totally get that impulse. Yeah.

Nick Touran  56:41  

I mean, I, I'm, like, really conflicted, because part of me is like, thank goodness, somebody is like getting excited about nuclear and pouring money in and developing young new people and learning all sorts of cool stuff like, this is great. This is an absolutely good thing. And then the other part of me is like, geez, well, the likely the overall likelihood of disrupting through this approach may be lower than people expect. So I don't know I'm certainly conflicted about it. I'm, I don't have the all the answers to sort of solving that issue. So yeah, I sort of feel like let's just, let's just change the proportions like more people focus on LWR deployment and focus. And like, maybe we can just grow the pie in general. But let's try to get a little bit more focus on that known technology and a little bit less over obsession with like the brilliant innovator who swoops in and saves everything. Like I think we're a little bit obsessed with that concept of the concept of innovation. And I mean, Rickover built the entire nuclear industry, not just submarines, but He then threw shipping for built the commercial nuclear industry as well. And he did it through Facebook can only be described as like extremely hard work, ridiculous specifications. And it's kind of like being very grumpy and angry, and people. And that's, it shouldn't have to be that way. That's not the only way to do it. But it is true that that's what made reliable reactors. I mean, it wasn't just crazy, crazy, fun, interesting ideas. It was extremely hard work, detailed specifications, and careful testing, and a lot of money.

Dr. Chris Keefer  58:15  

I think this archetype of like, you need the brilliant zany scientists to come up with cool concepts. And then you need like a engineer who's, you know, worked on a god awful number of, you know, naval vessels and played around with diesel engines in them and troubleshot and done all kinds of maintenance to kind of fuse together to, to deliver here. And that's a metaphor that probably would be useful to. Yeah, it's

Nick Touran  58:37  

kind of interesting, because yeah, we have the tech geniuses these days that are in that, but then I mean, Rickover is kind of like that. I mean, he has this larger than life personality, but he's not about it wasn't about innovation at all. It was about like deep, extremely good project management, extremely good supply chain management, he was kind of obsessed with like the non sexy parts of project delivery. And that's what built nuclear. So he kind of was he's like the Steve Jobs of supply chain development or something like that. Right. It is interesting. Yeah. And his Yeah, he was an electrical engineer, and he just had so much knowledge. It was a coincidence of timing. He was just, like, perfectly baked, right when this new technology came online.

Dr. Chris Keefer  59:17  

Right, right. We just came up on an hour. I'm gonna float this this one idea quickly, and we'll close on that and I think we're gonna have to have you come back to expound on some of these ideas, because it's been totally fascinating. But getting back to this innovation theme, there's this story of this German motorbike. I think it's a 1944 era motorcycle. The Soviets got their hands on the blueprints that hey, this is pretty good motorbike. And until the fall of the Soviet Union, they had a factory to teed up to produce this motorbike and it was the same motorbike, same components that were being kicked off the the production line 50 years later, and you know, but they did a lot of units. And so there's this idea. I think that like command control, I mean, this is the most Dream form of central planning obviously there's, you know, kind of a, maybe a Social Democratic machine metal in Scandinavia in France in the 70s. But on the extreme end of sort of command control centrally planned economies, you know, you don't have innovation, but you can bang out lots of units of something. And generally speaking, don't have the market signals to say, okay, stop that or want to improve it or make it more fuel efficient. And in the West, you know, on the other extreme, I'm not sure, like libertarian capitalism or something. I'm not sure if that is the most innovative, but certainly, you get a lot of new ideas floating around. And certainly, if you look at, you know, motorcycles in the US, there's a lot of development from the 40s. Still, till the 90s, over similar timeframe. And so I guess what I'm wondering is, you know, if I don't say innovation is dangerous for nuclear, but you know, it seems like the pace of it needs to be slower if you innovate too quickly. Maybe that's just because the regulatory environment, it slows things down, it slows deployment down. So are Russia and China and South Korea and against Japan, in its heyday and France? Are they kind of beating us because they were just able to deploy big stupid old reactors, boom, boom, boom, serially, that's not a very inspiring story are you think there's some kind of like synthesis between the systems where we can deploy a lot and advanced the tech synthesis,

Nick Touran  1:01:08  

I mean, they didn't just take the exact, I mean, the Koreans didn't just take the system at plus, and just take it verbatim, like they improved it. And they learned on it a little bit. And they did make a series of generational changes based on on fleet mode, operational experience, but the changes were modest and well considered and ended up being they were a good idea. And that's so you don't want to just stop innovation completely. I think if I had to choose, it would I would be like, let's get economical, known technology expanding net, like let's get back on that curve, ever expanding nuclear at a rate that's compatible with what we want. And then given profits from that, let's fund as much innovation as we can, using the profits of the well operating fleet. Again, that's kind of sort of a dream, that's not so easy to just willed into existence. But that would be, that would definitely be ideal. There's plenty of improvements to be made. And there have been improvements. I mean, the French made improvements to their models as well. But yeah, I mean, if you have a plant, that's good enough, and it's been, it's running economically, and you're selling a commodity, then there isn't that much motivation to jump to changing it. And again, back to Rickover, he would allow design changes, and they did iterate on submarines, quite a bit for various necessities. But he was very conservative, if you wanted to change it had to go. I mean, he certainly looked at every single change, and there was a huge bias against change. Like, if you wanted to change something that had fleet experience behind it, you better have a really good reason to do it. And you can, but you have to like really back it up. You don't just swap it out, because someone published an MC and P calculation saying like, look, we save all we save the planet. So it's just a big, big barrier to get a change is probably appropriate. But but having a yeah, anyway, say I go ahead.

Dr. Chris Keefer  1:02:55  

You said something interesting, which was, like operationally based innovations. I think that's really interesting. Because it's like, you know, yes, you've operated a fleet now. And then that's informing you that, hey, this system could be improved. Versus I think, what's going on right now, which is a lot of sort of theoretical stuff around like, Well, it'd be great to solve, you know, the close the fuel cycle. So it's not, you know, based more on the real world of operation. So that's, I think, an interesting kind of distinction and innovate. Yeah,

Nick Touran  1:03:21  

and it's just, we do have better computers now. But yeah, there's nothing, nothing beats operation, it's just hard to nuclear is intrinsically hard to innovate in a reactor. And we we don't, well, we could have more research reactors around or test reactors up and running. But they're expensive, they're hard to operate, they have problems. They're political footballs. Me we had FFTs, a beautiful test factor operated great out here in Washington State. And then people would love to have it right now. But we shut it down in the 90s. Because there was no mission. And it was expensive. There were there were a bunch of opposition, who's paying for it, and so on. So it's just like maintaining that ability to sort of have a playground to do innovation and actually get operational experience. It's just really hard, and nuclear, and so that, if you could sort of get back to where it's easy to build what's called a Reactor Experiment, which is like a small non power, well, they make power, but it's not like serving the utility to really like, try out. That's what they used to do. They had an idea. They analyze it on paper, they built a couple little experiments, and then they built a Reactor Experiment. And that Reactor Experiment, we built, I think, 25 of them or something like that. There's a huge number of them, most of which are pretty obscure. But um, that's a step that's like really important, like, does this system work as a unit in integrated fashion, and then you go to prototype where you have like, every system, and after that you do demonstration, and then you go commercial, but that's a long process. That's like, no investor is getting rich off of a 30 year stairstep innovation like that, which is why most of the developments have sort of been government funded so far, but that that kind of a process. You maybe maybe the democratic countries could look at this sort of more of an open source type model, not saying everything's publicly available, but we've collaborated as a big group on open source systems like the Linux kernel, for instance, with lots of experts doing lots of complicated technical work in a collaborative way fighter

Dr. Chris Keefer  1:05:12  

jet fighter for those opens. Well, not open source, but I'm saying like international club. Yeah, you know, that's 35. Right. Like you have something that's big, complex, expensive, and a bunch of allies are gonna use together. Yeah, you know, I've always, I've always talked about, like, you know, advanced nuclear needs, like an eater needs an eater, right. Like, we need to have, you know, let's have a molten salt, you know?

Nick Touran  1:05:32  

Yeah. And those are, those are probably bad examples, because those mega projects have all ballooned out of control as well. But like, kind of some innovation in collaboration techniques would be valuable. For instance, like that would be a good thing for innovation, as opposed to everybody come up and think like, well, this combination of fuel coolant moderator is my favorite. And so let's just because that's like not necessarily productive. We need innovation in in project management, collaboration, supply chain, so on. Anyway.

Dr. Chris Keefer  1:06:03  

All right, Nick, this has been super fascinating. Really high yield for me. Anyway, so thanks for thanks for making the time to be back and we'll have you back shortly because I think we're just scratching the scratching the surface there. Great shot. Yeah, friendly and come to cop next time so we can hang

Nick Touran  1:06:19  

out. All right. Yeah. No, yeah. Thanks so much for having me on. It's a great pleasure. And take care.

Dr. Chris Keefer  1:06:25  

All right. Bye for now.

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