top of page

Nuclear Energy at COP27

Seth Grae

Monday, December 12, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by Seth Grae. I met Seth last week at COP 27. Egypt's where we form part of a motley crew advocating under the banner I think of nuclear for climate. Seth is the president and CEO of light bridge fuel, and has many, many years within the nuclear industry, advising politicians domestically and internationally. Beyond that sets a bit of an International Man of Mystery. I've been told I've got to talk to this guy on numerous occasions, and I've been meaning to do so for a good solid year now. So without further ado, Seth warm welcome to Decouple,


Seth Grae  0:37  

Chris. It's a great pleasure to be here. Thank you.


Chris Keefer  0:40  

So, Seth, as you know, I think you've now listened to a few episodes, we get guests to introduce themselves, try and keep it short and snappy. And you know, more on the personal side and the professional side, although you know, you have a long resume. So feel free to sprinkle a bit of that in there as well for context. But yeah, go ahead and introduce yourself to the Decouple fandom here.


Seth Grae  1:00  

What Well, hello, everybody. And I'm glad to have joined the Decouple fandom. So I'm Seth Gray, I'm the CEO of Lightbridge Corporation. We're a small company on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange in New York, one of the few pure nuclear publicly traded stock companies on the stock exchange. And our focus is on developing advanced nuclear fuels. And as Chris said, We also advise some countries that are looking to start or expand nuclear power programs. And personally, I'm from New York originally, and grew up very interested in science, interested in engineering didn't study them formally, much ended up with degrees in law in business, but focused on high technology, international transfer that ended up eventually being only in nuclear, which got me more and more into the nuclear power industry, which has just been fascinating and very interesting to see how it's been developing globally, including a lot of the conversations we had just last week over in Egypt at COP 27.


Chris Keefer  2:11  

So I mean, clearly, you know, there's something that scratches both or itches about nuclear, you know, I've started dedicating an absolutely ridiculous amount of time, to studying it, understanding it more deeply. I'm always interested with my guests, who are a kind of nuclear stands for lack of a better word, like what what is like at its core essence that makes you kind of devote your life to understanding this technology, maybe to advocating for it? For you personally, what what's, what's that little spark? Or that little chant, whatever, I'm not gonna make a cheesy nuclear joke. What's the spark? Well,


Seth Grae  2:42  

well, I think it's a combination of two things. One is I just find the technology, fascinating, just the energy density of it, that it's about 3 million times better per unit of stuff that you have for how much energy you get out of it than anything else. So if you're trying to wean off reliance on petroleum, or other fossil fuels, from dictators, you're starting, you know, at one, three millions, if you start with anything, but nuclear, if you're trying to solve climate change the same thing, the idea that you could solve these things without nuclear just just does not seem feasible. And that's part of what's so interesting to me that we're trying to power the world, a world that grew up on fossil fuels. And if we want to have reliable 24/7 power, lift people out of poverty, have energy dense, good lives, I think tremendous growth of nuclear has to be part of the energy mix.


Chris Keefer  3:50  

So we're definitely going to kind of focus this interview on a kind of debrief of cop, and I meant to get to this a bit later. But I think this is a good feed. And because obviously, you know, so much of the goal of COP is the complete opposite of fossil fuels, or at least achieving this mythical idea. I'm exposing my biases here of net zero, a lofty goal, you know, the way in which we could actually potentially stabilize our global climate system, at least not accelerate and blow past 1.5 or two or three, or whatever it ends up being, and I don't mean at all to diminish the urgency and need to limit global warming. You know, but as I've studied energy more deeply, you know, I don't mean to beat fights loves meal to death here, but you know, appreciated, I think his his work and other thinkers in this area, you know, just understanding how fossil fuels really are this civilizational life support structure our societies have become so complex, and so dependent on you know, intricate supply chains, which are all underpinned well, almost all underpinned by by by fossil fuels. And you know, like when I when I look at, you know what or how do we get past fossil fuels, I see pilot projects, for instance, that are decarbonizing hard to decarbonize processes. You know, Vasilev famously talks about the four pillars, concrete, steel, plastics, and fertilizer. But what all of those pilot projects have in common to me is that they're not scalable, and they're not affordable. And the only way they would ever be scalable and affordable is if you had abundant energy, like a total superfluous amount of energy in order to drive some pretty thermodynamically unfavorable reactions in order to get you know, an alternative. And so I don't know that that's kind of like my drive towards nuclear. But I just I did want to kind of, you know, get your perspective on this idea of of netzero. It's, it's, you know, that that is a goal of the climate summits, we're clearly not achieving it or getting close to it. Do you feel like the timelines are off? Do you feel like it's just a physical impossibility based upon energy reality? What are your thoughts?


Seth Grae  6:02  

Well, I think it's easy to achieve net zero, we just don't have any energy. And that's just not the world anyone wants to be in. And I think that it's easy to have all the energy we want, we'll just blow through climate goals and burn fossil fuels. And that's not the world we want to be in either. So to have both net zero and plentiful energy is the hard part. And there are not easy solutions, there's a tremendous amount of investment that has to be done if we're going to have a hope of getting there. I think both in terms of relying on countries that don't have our best interest in mind or our adversaries of ours quite actively for fossil fuels. And in terms of meeting climate goals, we have to wean off fossil fuels. And to wean off fossil fuels, in addition to reliance on these countries and the climate issues, is to wean off what has lifted up civilization. Without fossil fuels, we would not have lifted billions of people out of poverty, we're not having the transportation we have the health care, we have the education we have we we couldn't be talking right now with so many systems in between you and I that many of which are running on fossil fuels as we speak, particularly natural gas in our countries. And so therefore, to have a chance of meeting fossil fuel goals and continuing to grow, energy use for more people lifting them out of poverty. I, you know, just see the existing reactor technology with some tweaks as being essential that I find a lot of people have an almost religious like belief and some new technology development, that they're betting civilization on on whether those technologies will be developed at scale commercially in time. And they're almost certainly not going to happen. We're not going to have large, say grid level battery storage that backs up Beijing season to season or even overnight, before 2050 In a way we can rely on and have photovoltaics and wind power in the Gobi desert, and then have no wind or sunlight in Beijing, but power the city, that's not going to happen, we're not going to have carbon capture from the fossil fuel plant smokestacks are taking it out of the atmosphere and sequestering it or using it in a positive way, you know, at a large global scale in time for 2050. And therefore, I don't want to suddenly be on the side of nuclear technologies that are like that either fusion or something that probably won't be ready and commercialized at an economic large global scale by 2050. And I think that to meet net zero goals, we've got to use technologies that we know will work and focus our technology development on incremental changes that are very likely to work, but we've got to start implementing them now. We have, you know, about 27 years till 2050 at this point.


Chris Keefer  9:43  

You know, it's daunting, it's absolutely daunting. I think we're gonna end up doing an episode later, more focused on this question of net zero. So we'll park it there for now, because I think the main news flash or news item to stay relevant to the last couple of weeks proceedings Is cop 27 You and I were both there, I think you were badged by the American Nuclear Society. So just let's just start off with kind of your brief kind of 30,000 feet impressions, and then we'll get a little more granular and talk a bit about the negotiations, what's come out of them, you know, put it in the context of other cops. And we're definitely going to talk about future cops coming up. But right now, just your reaction to, to the proceedings to your time there.


Seth Grae  10:30  

My first major impression was that the country's with developing economies were very serious about what they call loss and damage. And using terms like reparations and climate justice, that the countries with developed economies have a view is having produced the carbon in the atmosphere that is now ruining the these countries with smaller economies need to pay, and that the richer countries need to pay the poor countries for harm that's already been done from flooding, to crop failures, and so many problems they attribute to climate change, and for much more harm that will be done due to climate change. And my impression from most of the richer countries, including a comment that John Kerry, the head of the American negotiating team at COP 27 made was there they're not taking this seriously, was that they did not intend to come up with a mechanism to do that, a cop 27 And they had other things to focus on. And you started to see things like on the Pakistan Pavilion at COP 27, the words put up on it that say, what happens in Pakistan won't stay in Pakistan.


Chris Keefer  11:54  

It's like the opposite of Vegas rules, the opposite of Vegas rules, what


Seth Grae  11:57  

happens in Pakistan will blow back on the United States, the European Union, Canada and others. And so that was my first impression, these two sides were were quite far apart on on that issue. And that to get to a final statement, and you need all 196 countries to agree. A second impression was that, boy, Were there a lot of fossil fuel industry lobbyists, they're all over the place and putting their nose in everything. And that was interesting. And partly, I think validating of the importance of the cat cop process. But they felt they had to be there, not just do lobbying back in capital cities of countries that were represented a cop, they were worried about what would happen once these countries got to cop and started talking to each other, and wanted to be there and be there in force. And a last impression was, like a lot of complex negotiations, just how much can happen at the very end, these countries have a year to work on their positions. They have then two weeks at COP, but literally in the last hour or so how things can happen. So that was all interesting to me. And


Chris Keefer  13:24  

you have a good anecdote there. And I want to get into it in just a second. But I guess just a few reflections on on what you're saying. And I guess a question tied into it. I tend to maybe be a little overly reflective on the podcast, but if your listeners you will permit that. You know, I totally agree with you this dynamic between global north and global south and the theme being loss and damage and reparations. You know, it strikes me that it's a relationship of begging, in a sense, right, of these weaker undeveloped countries begging the global north with its, you know, I guess superfluous resources, although that's starting to, you know, things are getting a little tight in the west and in the global north with the global energy crisis rippling through our economies and inflation, etc. But, you know, there was an interesting article by Ted Nordhaus and Vijay Ramachandran. I'm forgetting the third author, but they were talking about how Listen, climate resilience, and adaptation is the product of economic development. Right. And there's this tension of the global north in some ways, you know, and it's kind of that Paul Ehrlich Population Bomb or the African carbon bomb was how I've heard it referred to as well like, we can't let these people develop to be like us or the planet screwed. Right? So there's that that tension there. And you know, there's this Frederick Douglass quote I like great slavery abolitionist in the states and he you know, he says power concedes nothing without demand. But, but a demand that has power, you know, power concedes nothing without a powerful demand or demand of powerful people and maybe that's not because, you know, an individual is as powerful I think, in that quote, he's referring more to this idea that you know, people gathering together can become powerful and Man something. And so it just it struck me as you know, there's a need for Africa, for instance, to develop to get to a position of power, because otherwise, you're just begging. And frankly, you know, I know, and maybe you can update us on the details, but I know money was pledged, or at least there was a pledge to set up a bank account, essentially. But be interested in you know, as someone who didn't follow the negotiations as closely as you do, what what that your thoughts on kind of my reflections there? And also, what that loss and damage was the state of that loss and damage fund coming out of COP? And how optimistic are you that it's going to lead to? You know, it's what it's what's being asked for by the Global South?


Seth Grae  15:40  

Yeah, yeah. Love it. Let me first start on something that you're you're mentioning up Africa, and getting back to impressions. You know, another impression, and it relates to this coming in, was Africa was just very prominently featured. Yeah, I'm used to seeing image of the globe with North America facing me or Europe facing me. But the image, the official logo of comp 27, itself was the globe with Africa facing you. And that was everywhere. And from the president of the host, country, Egypt, el Sisi, in his remarks to many African countries, in their remarks, they were referring to this as the Africa Cup, that there were 54 countries in Africa. And this was going to focus on their needs and feature or their desires more than any other. And apparently, the rest of the 196 countries didn't get the message. And they thought that Africa specifically in Sharm el Sheikh and Egypt was just the place that they were convening, there was a venue. And it was no different than if they were convening anywhere else. And there was nothing special about Africa, and how they had a treat it in the closing statement, or in their national remarks, they were giving it cop 27. And my sense was that the African countries left cop, very disappointed. They thought this was the Africa cop, and the rest of the world didn't add in terms of loss and damage and other things that came out of this cop. There was nothing special about Africa within it. You know, a developing country in Latin America, is the same as a developing country in Africa, there was no worrying about having to take care of Africa better.


Chris Keefer  17:38  

In your opinion, what is special about Africa? Like looking into the future? What would what would you've seen there in terms of their interest being, you know, if they've got their wish, what would be acknowledged? And yeah, what what is special about Africa when thinking about, you know, climate, climate change, etc? Well, all


Seth Grae  17:53  

I really have my impressions from last week, a part of it was that perhaps in ways they haven't before the countries of Africa, were banding together and really thinking of themselves as a continent. Together, we very often hear about Sub Saharan Africa. Or we'll hear about the MENA region, the Middle East and North Africa, where countries in North Africa, like Egypt, include themselves more with Gulf countries and other Middle Eastern countries than say, with Southern African countries. So the idea that they were presenting themselves as Africa was very interesting to me. I also felt that there was a notion of sort of the host country, the host continent, viewing it almost as being rude as not sort of bringing a house gift as some Americans put it to these international conferences that your host is Africa, your host is an African nation. And you're not bringing something to acknowledge that there's something special about Africa. And on the loss and, and damage, I guess that the global South, the developing economies didn't get everything they wanted. The global north north, the richer countries gave more than they expected to. And this whole thing is a continuing process. There'll be a cop 28 and beyond. And this was a very important step to, I would say, accept responsibility by the global north for harm that has been caused and will be caused in the Global South. Now, that's not to accept full liability, but accept responsibility to say yes, your problems are partly because of us. That we have a role in helping you solve them. That's a very important first step. to actually set up some mechanisms, some funding to deal with it. There will be over the next year leading up to cop 28 in Dubai, further negotiations discussions on what this means. But there were some actions not by the global north as a group and payments to the global south as a group. But there were some one offs, there was the United States and Japan, with some other countries getting together and making some specific pledges to some other countries. There were some other groupings of countries that either one on one or groups, two groups, regional groups started to do that sort of thing. There was talk of mechanisms, such as through the World Bank, that that some things will be done. And I'm sure they'll be taught through regional development banks and through individual nations, export credit agencies. And I'm sure a lot of these will be projects that will benefit the donor country, as much as it benefits the recipient country, because there'll be manufacturing, there'll be exports, there'll be people providing training. And a lot of these will be funding in the form of loans or other means that will flow back, they might improve trade risk between certain countries, and hopefully prevent further problems, not just in terms of climate change and damage from it. But like the Pakistan's logo, and saying of what happens in Pakistan will stay in Pakistan, that, that problems that might have developed in the future, from now awful things that develop in countries that are suffering, from terrorism to massive immigration waves of people leaving to so many things that if those things can be mitigated and nipped in the bud a bit. That's a bit that's good, too. And then there's the question of what what will these projects look like they have to help solve some damage that's already been done, they have to prevent more. And that's where we can start talking about nuclear power as as part of these.


Chris Keefer  22:24  

So yeah, let's pivot there. Because we had a brief sort of debrief last week. And you told me a story, which was very hopeful, I mean, I went to cop very cynical, I was grumpy and spent 30 plus hours on planes, you know, I was only going to be there for like, 90 hours, the ratio just did not seem great to me. And there's a lot of pageantry, you know, excellent branding, beautiful graphic design, flashy, pavilions and feels like, you know, the words of Greta Thunberg, a lot of blah, blah, blah. That was her sort of summary of cops 26 in Glasgow. But, you know, as I as I stayed there, and got to spend time, particularly with our little band of merry men and women, within the sort of nuclear for climate umbrella group, you know, my hopes were really raised, there was a really beautiful panel moderated by Mark Nelson and IEA pavilion, which really just featured such a diverse array of global south voices and really centered on Africa. You know, in terms of what the goals of the conference were, there was engineers from Sudan, communicators from South Africa guy from Sierra Leone, and it was just, it was wonderful. And we are going to try and post that as well and some of our coverage. But you had a really cool story, which I think shows the strength of our movement, which is that, you know, it ranges from passionate teenagers to folks like yourself that, you know, have been a senior adviser and have well established relationships, even with some of the negotiators. So without spoiling the story too much, I'd love it, if you could share that, and help sort of rub off that cynicism and put some polish on, you know, what, what happened to comp and the impact that, you know, this really, you know, relatively small group of very poorly funded nuclear advocates, but what we were able to pull off? Well,


Seth Grae  24:07  

it was amazing to me to see all these people they're under the umbrella of nuclear for climate and the IAEA having a pavilion at Caba formal nuclear pavilion for the first time, and the energy of people supporting nuclear, and just how so many people were fanning out and talking to so many people about nuclear. So as I went around cop and talked to different people, I would found that find that I was often not the first one to talk to them about nuclear power. They'd already been approached by some young engineer or some other very energetic person who was going around talking to nuclear and given if there were over 30,000 people there. This was a lot of conversations that were clearly happening since most people I've met are so many of them had already been touched by someone in nuclear. And one of these As young people supporting nuclear cop 27, I believe the youngest of all the nuclear supporters who are there is a teenager who's from Sweden. And I hope I get her last name pronounced right, but iya on astute. And she's a 17 year old high school student from Sweden, who obtained a Blue Zone pass for cop 27 And was there under the banner of nuclear for climate. And she was on that panel that you're talking about, I was privileged to be on that panel, too. And she was one of the people communicating in a whatsapp chat group among the nuclear supporters at COP 27, about what was going on. And behind closed doors, the negotiators from the 196 countries were trying to come up with a finalized text. And they got to within about an hour of when it looked like the final text would be released, what they called draft two. And if you were creative enough, and looking online, you could find draft two, with which he did, and looked at the energy section, and saw the word renewable, and the term renewable energy, but nothing else. And when people think of renewables, they mostly think of wind and solar, they don't think of nuclear. They don't think of hydroelectric even. And it seemed to exclude nuclear, from the energy provisions of the final statement that was about to be finalized.


Chris Keefer  26:50  

And that's relevant, because from what I understand, you know, then this Lawson's damage file, there's some anxiety amongst Global North countries, you don't just want to send crates full of cash, we want to tie some of this loss and damage reparation funding to particular projects. So there's less opportunities for corruption and grift. Is that Is that correct? Is that why it's relevant?


Seth Grae  27:08  

That FET that's, that's definitely my read. And it's also relevant because the final statement for cop 27 is the starting point for what will be written at COP 28. And in other places, and if you're leaving out nuclear, you're starting as I set out, one, three millions of where you can start on some projects of how much energy you can produce. So my sense from Aya was that she was disappointed that, you know, she wished the the final draft was not focused on nuclear that had used a term like clean energy, that are non emitting energy or low emitting energy. But when I saw that, come over WhatsApp, I immediately sent an email about it to Dr. Catherine Hoff, who goes by Katie fed the Department of Energy in Washington, and she had been at part of cop 27, but was already back at back in Washington. And she immediately hopped on this, it was on a Saturday. And she immediately responded and said, she's on it. And she replied with a cc of Dr. Kirsten Cutler, who I also know from the State Department who deals with nuclear energy issues and had also been at COP 27. And they started to work the issue. And I'll add Andrew Smith at the American Nuclear Society. Now this was going on, I was there under a badge from the American Nuclear Society, a cop 27. And he asked if he should let Craig Piercey, the CEO of the American Nuclear Society now when I said, Of course, I know Craig very well. And then Craig reached out contacting someone from the White House who's working on climate issues and cop 27 issues. And the last hour, ended up being about three hours before the final statement was finalized. They went well into the night on Saturday into Sunday morning in Sharm el Sheikh. And then the final statement came out, and it was paragraphs 1213 and 14 of the final agree to statement from 196 countries that that focused on energy. And all of a sudden, the wording was changed and improved in many ways, including terms like low carbon energy, including renewables, and terms like clean energy. So clearly was not only renewables can include more. And that's not only good because we like to see nuclear available to meet the goals of of net zero of meeting cup 20 sevens climate goals. But also, as you said, because another part of a final statement was setting up this loss and damage fund, that countries are saying trillions of dollars will flow through these mechanisms in the coming decades to exclude nuclear would be quite the thing not only on not reaching climate goals if we exclude nuclear, but but cutting out a whole industry that has a lot of people that that have a lot to offer. So I think the combination of the word changing, which I believe started with the is text, and I don't know if other countries and other people also saw that and worked on this. But I know the Americans did, and, and that key Americans at the Department of Energy and State did and I believe at the White House, and get to the American team in the negotiating room. Combined with the loss and damage funding mechanism, where a lot of money will flow. I think now we can really talk about small modular reactor projects in the Global South. We could talk about large reactor projects and regional programs that cross borders, we can talk about all kinds of things relating to nuclear, that wouldn't have been allowed under the wording of draft to that IE ahead, very quickly put in the text and real kudos to Katie Helfrich. Do II for jumping on this on a Saturday?


Chris Keefer  31:33  

Yeah, totally, totally. I definitely want to touch on that role of nuclear as a development tool, you were very involved with advising the United Arab Emirates on setting up their first nuclear program, we are going to have His Excellency Mohammed Al Hammadi on shortly to deep dive that a bit more. So I want to bookmark I do want to just give a little teaser here with you in a few minutes. So again, making a bit of a mental bookmark for myself about, you know, when a country starts a nuclear program, what that does developmentally for that country in terms of, you know, providing the firm base so that they can then, you know, one of the one of the things that came up with the IE pavilion was a Billy's a Nigerian guy, and there's a debate between Mark Nelson and Tobias I forget his last name a German guy. And at the end, the Nigerian says, Can we industrialize Africa with solar alone? You know, and I think most of us would know the answer to that question. And Tobias kind of flipped it a little bit and flubbed it. And, you know, industrialization is not a priority of German climate activists when it comes to the future of Africa. And it certainly is a priority of Africans, at least something I heard frequently. Anyway, I'm going to bookmark that for a second. Because I want to shift a little bit to, to cop moving forward. And the role of COP moving forward, we are going to be shifting countries going over to the United Arab Emirates. The next COP 28 is being hosted in Dubai. You know, what's special about that? And what do you see as as happening for the role of nuclear? Within that conference? I think most people would say that, you know, this was the most the nuclear with the most presence of sort of the COP of the most presence of nuclear, it was still very much lacking from basically every pavilion, including famously, of course, France, which gets 75% of its energy from nuclear, my own country, others, but certainly the grassroots, were there. How do you foresee things being different at Dubai? And how can we make things different at COP 28 in Dubai?


Seth Grae  33:32  

And I'll just say, hi, hi, my wife, you see walking behind my shoulder a little bit of times here, but I'll say is that I think the UAE needs to be careful not to duplicate what Egypt and Africa assumed that just because they're the host, that they have an outsized say that the rest of the world will pay enhanced attention to what they're saying, because they're the host. And as I said, I think Egypt and Africa in general, were a little disappointed that the rest of the world is just future, I'm El Sheikh is a venue. So my advice to the UAE would be to start working with countries that will come to cop well in advance to start working regionally. If you want to speak together as a regional group, or block and have that block, start talking to others and perhaps other blocks of countries like African nations, like, you know, European Union, you know, groupings of countries. But But I think that well before cop 28 starts in Dubai, the UAE needs to prioritize what it wants out of cop 28 and start working with other countries very specifically. And if they're looking for buy in from some of their neighbors, they they need to be arranging that in advance and speak with one voice because one thing that You know, was obvious at COP was that, you know, countries with enormous economies like the United States carry a lot of weight if you want loss and damage if they don't agree, it's probably over 20% of global GDP GDP not agreeing. or large groupings of countries like the European Union, but also just you need the votes and you need 100 696 countries to go along. And if the Gulf nations if the broader Middle East or broader Middle East and North Africa would have you can speak with one voice, and lets the message be known prior to cop 28 starting that, that I think will be more effective.


Chris Keefer  35:44  

I guess, one of my frustrations that cop, there's the saying you can't talk about climate without talking about X, you know, whether that's, you know, culture, whether that's, you know, food, whether, I mean, there was a pavilion saying the answer is beans, and certainly I don't want to I don't want to be too much of an energy maximalist and I do want to recognize that, you know, a significant amount of the world's emissions come from, you know, land transformation, they come from well, things that also require energy obviously, transportation industry, you know, housing etc. But, you know, tending to shoulder the guilt of being a bit of an energy maximalist, I really found there was a lack of energy literacy occurring at COP. And, you know, in terms of the framework of COP itself, you know, what it arises out of what were the models that informed, you know, using this negotiation structure, I've heard it like into, you know, the Montreal gathering, which phased out CFCs, or maybe arms control agreements. But again, what I saw, or what I was frustrated by was, was an act of lack of energy literacy. And when I think about Dubai next year, you know, here's a country that in 10, or 12 years, has built sufficient nuclear, to decarbonize the full 25% of their grid, and now provides a quarter of the electricity to their whole country. I mean, this is a concrete example of something that works and in the context of over and over again, you know, pledges being made and not met a lot of, you know, probably questionable ways of just doing some creative carbon trading carbon accounting. You know, there's there's, there's, there's a frustration that the concrete things aren't happening. And now this, this next conference is going to be hosted hosted in a country that has done something truly monumental, in terms of emissions reductions, a physical action, not, you know, complicated accounting software. So if you can riff off of riff off of that, you know, rather strange question as I'm famous and asking it at Decouple helped me out your reflections, I guess, on I don't even remember what the questions were there were tied up in there. Hopefully, you'll do better?


Seth Grae  37:47  

Well, I'll start with when you speak with Muhammad Al Hammadi, you know, I think, very sincerely congratulating him on the success of that program. You know, it's, it's really remarkable. And he recently was elected by the nuclear power operators of the world as to be the president of the World Association of nuclear operators, which is the leading global organization focusing on nuclear safety. And I think the UAE has done a remarkable job at living up to the highest principles relating to nuclear power, such high standards of safety of Non Proliferation of transparency as a program, you know, excellence in their nuclear regulation. And I think that they've really become a model of how to do nuclear power, right? They've so is not just, let's order some power plants and hire some people to operate them, the nation took on this program, and the nation is doing it right to the highest of international standards, and that that's something to be to be emulated. It's more than just the power, you could go to a turn key supplier, like the Russians or the Chinese that will come and do it for you and regulate it really and operated and you get the energy. But you don't get what the UAE got, which is it's their program and it's transforming the nation. I think there are analogies, I think, to the space program in America. So you know, now there are roles for women that were unimaginable not that long ago in the UAE when the most recent nuclear reactor started up at the baraka site in Abu Dhabi unit three. And you could hear audio of this set. You can actually ask Mohammed Al Hammadi, if you let him know in advance, he could play this for you on the podcast of the operator in charge in the control room for the first startup and or have that nuclear reactor. It's an Emirati woman, nuclear operator. The idea of an Emirati woman is the person in charge in the control room for a first time startup of a 1400 megawatt electric nuclear reactor. That's apparently not a very big deal today. But, yeah, 10 years ago, I think that would have been, and you're seeing women, aerospace engineers, women going into everything. And to some extent, the nuclear power program has been part of that with computer chip manufacturing and aerospace systems and others. But in many ways, the nuclear program has been at the leading edge of that, of training of jobs, for the future for the population of the country, really, for preparing for post oil of this country is using its revenue from selling oil, to diversify its economy, and its training its people. So the wealth of the country more and more every day is coming from the hard work and intellectual capacity of the population, not from drilling it out of the ground or the seabed.


Chris Keefer  41:15  

Now, this is something I talk about a lot under the rubric more of just transition, but it applies more broadly. You know, the understand there was sort of a a long study that went into, okay, how are we going to diversify our energy mix, and everything was considered from wind and solar to the other options. But when you think about what it means for a nation to say, Okay, we're going to spend, you know, $50 billion on, you know, solar panels and wind turbines sourced exclusively from overseas, we're going to import these as finished modules, we're going to erect them, and we'll coast on that for 2030 years and have a few maintenance jobs. You know, what that does to the national economy to human potential is so much less than what they're seeing, as a consequence of this nuclear program where, you know, it's not just the engineers, but also, you know, there's there's spin off industries, I understand that the Emiratis are now providing some nuclear parts to back to Korea, becoming a supplier to the Koreans. So with all that in context, again, there was a real I mean, amongst the advocates that at COP 27, there was a sense of nuclear pride. But amongst the countries, you didn't see much at all, I think the UAE was alone in actually even talking about nuclear. It was great to see it there. It wasn't prominent, you know, walking around this pavilions No. And I think Paris Ortiz wines had a great tweet on this as well, you know, the Chinese Pavilion for God's sakes, they had wind farm solar farm and a combined cycle gas plant, I don't even know if there was carbon capture and storage hooked up on it, but that was their pavilion, you know, the three dimensional thing that you can interact with at the Pavilion. And you know, what I want to see at COP 28. I mean, on the Canadian side, is, you know, a mock up of our Canada reactor, we have a beautiful one at s&c level and it's about you know, three feet by four or five feet high, highly detailed, it's just a cool looking thing. You look at annual What the hell is this? You know, and it could be an it could be within a, you know, a background that says, you know, this, this machine kills coal or something, you know, I'm thinking of a reference, pop culture reference. But I mean, this is the the technology that literally powered the greatest greenhouse gas reduction in North American history, the interior coal phase out and having something there that's three dimensional like I when I talked to some of the Emirati is I was like, you should have a you know, have a large model of Baraka really center this. So in terms of making that, that stride from just not just the advocates, but to the country pavilions adopting that sense of pride, it feels like I mean, just like within even just just like within any movement that's been stigmatized, like there's a moment of coming out of is it safe to do this yet? You know, we're here to promote our countries. Is this going to bring us negative attention? Negative Flack, we've done I think, a lot of work, you know, in this podcast, and more broadly, on on talking about the reasons why there should be more social licence. But from the perspective of country pavilions, how do you think that we encourage some pride, and particularly in this host country, that where this program has been transformative, and you know, as the largest single clean energy infrastructure in the entire Arab world?


Seth Grae  44:15  

Yeah, well, I hope that the UAE runs many tours to the baraka nuclear power plant site before, during and after cop 28. In addition to models at the COP, 28 site at Dubai Expo city. I think that it cop 27 A lot of people were conflicted and not really understanding how to put things because with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we need to have a lot of fossil fuel use right now. If people aren't going to freeze to death this winter, it in some countries in Europe and what We're seeing is, I think some irresponsible ways of of handling this in Europe, I think Germany, not looking at restarting some reactors that have shut down, still planning to shut down three reactors now to the end of December of 2022. But well before mid 2023 is using up not only its own fossil fuels that they're mining more and more coal for the most part lignite, really the dirtiest form of soft coal, but buying up fossil fuels from the Caribbean, from Africa, from around the world to burn in Germany, depriving other people at very hard economic times of those fossil fuels that they need in their own countries or other countries need to import from those third countries. So the rich Germans can, can have them rather than run nuclear. And I think there's a very important role for nuclear to play immediately in keeping the lights on keeping the heat on keeping food production going, keeping your society going health care going in so many countries by keeping nuclear reactor reactors operating and restarting those that have closed where it can be. And I think that was a very difficult thing for people to articulate a cop 27 We sort of have to be for renewables, not for nuclear don't like fossil fuels. And I'm very sensitive to not just individual jobs, I've certainly met a lot of coal miners in the United States and Poland and elsewhere, that want to keep their jobs but don't want their grandchildren to be coal miners. And, you know, in the UAE a lot of people's jobs depend on the oil industry, but think that their grandchildren working in nuclear is fantastic. And so, so I think not mincing words, not just making cheery slogans, these things are all complicated. The longer term goals are different than the immediate goals in some ways, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine in particular. And I think the UAE needs to, you know, justly take great pride in its nuclear power program, you know, perhaps make announcements of future plans for the nuclear program, if they have them by next year and ready to announce, and I think that, you know, help feature other countries that want to announce the benefits that have come from their nuclear power programs, and those that will come more. And, you know, we certainly see are the United States and, you know, in other countries, whole towns, communities, you know, even large areas of states, that that have been decimated by closing down for coal plant for coal, mining, and others. And we need to be very sensitive in these transitions of what we're doing for these people, what we're doing for these towns, and is that that these will be where the first small modular reactors will go, that people who operated turbines of a coal plants will operate turbines at these plants. And these are not easy answers. But I think giving a sense that they're being grappled with, they're being grappled with very seriously. It's very important. And most of all, in the immediate crises coming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine in particular, recognizing that there are places that just need fossil fuel and that that's okay, we're not going to tell other people they have to freeze to death this winter, so that we meet our 2050 goals, as we're flying on airplanes and driving cars and turning on the heat over the winter.


Chris Keefer  48:56  

I mean, you were talking earlier about the need for countries to do a lot of planning in advance of cop 28, you talked about some of the alliances that formed even this year, between blocks of countries. And I think, you know, an opportunity for the UAE here is really to serve as an adviser to countries and there's a lot of countries now that are coming together saying we want to start a nuclear program. I'm thinking about Poland, Estonia, Ghana, you know, there's a number of nations, you'd have the complete list, I'm sure in the back of your head. But you know, what an opportunity for prestige for the UAE to share their experiences. And again, I mean, it just it just reminds me a bit of the green finance area where we're just starting to see, you know, the dam breaking, you know, there's been serious barriers that have been put up in front of, you know, international finance organizations funding new nuclear programs. One of those has been green bonds, which you know, even in my own country, my own province, which is 64% nuclear powered its nuclear is not included in our green bond financing framework. provincially, not nationally. South Korea just included it the EU after, you know, decades feels of back and forth, has sort of included nuclear in their sustainable finance. But in any case, you know, the dam is about to break, there's going to be some risk to, you know, those first mover countries to take that bold step. But you know, it's just like, I guess making an investment in the stock market, I think, you know, you lick your finger, and you put it in the air. And there's a strong wind, that we're all feeling blowing right now. And I, you know, I know that the nuclear renewal of the early 2000s was aborted by Fukushima and the global financial crisis and, you know, decreasing demand forecasts. But I feel like this is a different moment. And I'm interested in your thoughts on this moment, how durable this moment of nuclear renewal is. And yeah, I guess your thoughts on countries wanting to get into nuclear and the relevance of the UAE hosting them? Well, well,


Seth Grae  50:52  

first of all, one of the differences is that there were some nuclear plants startup being built during that timeframe that ended up being built pretty much on schedule and, and on budget, like the ones in the UAE. And, you know, a lot of people like to pick one or two plants here or there in the world that, you know, got delayed and went over budget, but I think we've definitely demonstrated large nuclear power plants can be deployed and be big successes. And other thing that's happened during that period in the last decade, is that you have a lot of experienced people now who worked as welders on building the power plants in the UAE on doing the electrical work, complex, concrete pours, and these have been the veins of big nuclear projects of the delays, the the the the over budget aspects come from the welds failing inspection and needing to be redone these kinds of things, because there just aren't a lot of people who who've done those right. But now there's more and more people who have done them and done them, right. And, yeah, we can, with confidence, deploy more plants, like those that need those kind of workers. Another thing is that a lot of work has continued on small modular reactors that are faster to deploy, you know, less money to employ a small reactor than a large one. And while they are not yet operating, there are a lot of very good companies with very good technology, you know, based on existing lightwater reactor technology, and as well as some advanced reactors being developed, that will start, start seeing demonstrated in the coming coming years start start construction on those. And I think for, you know, countries with smaller electric grids, I couldn't imagine having a nuclear power plant would just be too large. I think nuclear will be able to play a role in more countries. And I think even industries within countries are looking at their own reactors to have 24/7 power and be that electricity be that process heat to for industrial processes, that there's just a lot of roles nuclear can play that really weren't in the cards 10 years ago, that now are,


Chris Keefer  53:22  

yeah, it's interesting. I guess we'll have to wrap up, I think in the next few minutes. But at COP 26, in Glasgow, there was a real sort of, I mean, the beginning of the global energy crisis had started droughts in Brazil and Norway were driving up LNG costs. It was a windrow year Zoll. Before the Russian invasion, Germany used coal as its number one source of electricity in 2021. But there was still this German hubris of we're going to impose our model on the developing world. We're going to help Africa get off its coal and leapfrog to renewables at a time when the euro, the Germans are relying on coal as the number one source of electricity all sort of under the rubric that, you know, yes, you can industrialize this way. And there's a you know, incredible irony watching Europe de industrialized in particularly Germany, de industrialized as a consequence of its energy choices. You know, that that Nigerian man's question, can Africa industrialize on solar? Well, we're seeing that Europe is the industrializing on the back of 60 gigawatts of installed solar capacity in a country with a capacity factor of 10%. In Germany, it's mind boggling. So, that's just a little tirade. I think I wanted to close again, on that hopeful note. You know, I've been sort of a My background is kind of as a left wing activist, part of sort of various youth movements, and in looking more broadly at effective, you know, groups of people working to change the world. One thing that you see as symptomatic of, of formations and groups that are quite weak is that they tend to be sort of mono generational students on campuses. Where there's not a maturity there's not a you know, a depth of of experience of different age groups who can provide advice to these youth that are all fired up and have lots of energy. And again, I mean, that story of Yan suit, and you working together and everybody else, it gives me enormous hope, going forward. And again, it was the antidote to my initial cynicism coming to cop to see that this movement, as marginal as it is, is growing quickly, right. But at times, it does feel we come to these conventions and it's like a comic con convention where, you know, people that are a fringe minority of their societies can get together and feel a little more normal because we've reached a critical mass where we can hang out and pretend that this is a little more normal, shall we say. But again, growing rapidly and it's giving me a lot of hope seeing again the health of this movement and the ways in which it is intergenerational and the mentorship opportunities that are available to young people within it. So Seth, thank you for coming on Decouple you know, I don't I don't accuse you of being a video too old of a generation but you know, your, your gray haired person who can who's got, you know, wealth and depth of experience, and I really appreciate you coming on Decouple, to share it more broadly with with our, our rapidly growing audience.


Seth Grae  56:12  

Great. Thank you, Chris. Such a pleasure to be with you. All right,


Chris Keefer  56:15  

and we'll have you back, for sure. And I'm very much looking forward to that I think and a goal to have you on as a regular guest in the in the coming future. So thanks again for your time. All right,


Seth Grae  56:24  

fantastic. Thank you.



bottom of page