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The State of the Atom

Mark Nelson

Monday, March 20, 2023

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to the couple. Today I'm joined by a man who needs no introduction, one of the top two mustaches in nuclear advocacy. Mr. Mark Nelson himself, Mark, welcome back to the couple.


Mark Nelson  0:11  

Thanks. Number two,


Chris Keefer  0:13  

you cracked up for a second there. Just Just repeat your thank you or whatever.


Mark Nelson  0:17  

Sure. Thank you. Number two mustache.


Chris Keefer  0:21  

You're sharp. So Mark, you're here to talk to give an address even. We talked about in the last episode, to address the state of the atom, obviously, there's been a real whirlwind. It feels blowing out there. You know, as someone who's following this along pretty regularly, even I'm surprised by the pace of the news items that are coming, that are seeming to really shift. What some people are calling a renaissance others are revival. I'm curious to hear how you would what label you would use to describe the heady times that we're in for nuclear?


Mark Nelson  0:56  

Yeah, well, the easiest thing to do is not to describe it and let people looking back and golden future days describe it by whatever word they use best. I mean, industrial revolution wasn't famously was not described as such during the suppose it revolution, right. And although a lot of powerful good things were happening for humanity, for a lot of the people in it, it was an unpleasant time, it was a dirty time, and we were in the middle of the beast. So you know, at the moment, I think I just will refuse, and you're going to just have to come up with a nice title for the episode yourself. But I'm not gonna call it anything. And that's not because I believe in bad luck, or Jinx or anything, just Sure. I'm, I'm riding the wave, and I'm enjoying it. And we'll hear some of those big things that are worth enjoying in the episode.


Chris Keefer  1:43  

So something is afoot. It is fair to say something is afoot, and something is afoot. And I want to I want to echo back to, you know, something did feel like it was afoot before my time in the early 2000s. And maybe we'll reflect a bit on those times and how those are different. But first off, let's just zoom in on the moment, we're in the something that we're in right now, what for you is the strongest evidence that something is afoot.


Mark Nelson  2:06  

For me, it's that in democracies, right, and left center, and even further than the center wings are becoming pro nuclear. And it's happening as a sort of collapse of Soviet Union might say a collapse of agreement to not discuss nuclear or collapse of the existing regime. So the existing regime is what either you don't talk about nuclear, you don't bring it up if you like it. And if you do like it, you just push a little and make sure that it's always blocked or banned, or off the table, or unincluded. Part of this is just outside of politics that extends to the media. What do I mean, in the media, it means if you're an editor or journalist, you don't talk to anyone who's been inside a nuclear plant who works at a nuclear plant, who understands nuclear engineering, you don't talk to anyone who likes nuclear, you specifically avoid it. And if you do talk to them, you make sure to frame them as an outlier industry view or a, you know, a corrupted, compromised view. Now we're seeing almost a complete inversion, a suspicion of those sources, who are exactly against as much against nuclear now, as they have always been, even though many of the journalists doing the hard work of reporting stories feel themselves this nuclear moment. And they they're sympathetic to nuclear energy. They're certainly curious. So with the breakdown of that consensus, not to say anything on nuclear, there could either be a giant battle breakout where the pro nuclear anti nuclear clash and Titanic fashion, we're not really seeing that, Chris, what we're seeing is that the anti nuclear forces were a paper tiger. Now, we'll discuss more of this later. None of that means we'll build nuclear really well in the West. What it does mean is that the things that are not the nuclear industries, either direct fault or under its control, like public sentiment, or the laws on the books, for example, those are changing rapidly, like ice crumbling and braking with the coming of spring. And I'm not sure any of us thought that would happen, especially within the context of a scary Ukraine war with a capture of nuclear plant in battle,


Chris Keefer  4:26  

right right now, so big discursive changes. And what are those resulting in? I mean, there was news you tweeted yesterday about an exciting announcement coming out of the UK but let's let's cover a few of the kind of objective changes in reality, not just the discourse. Sure. So perhaps what's what's resulting from this change in discourse,


Mark Nelson  4:45  

the UK has been cautiously and less cautiously pro nuclear, since Fukushima Daiichi there's a overwhelmingly you might say positive story for nuclear that came out in the British press around the calm sigh It's based response to Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, triple meltdowns, and you had leading science communicators, nonpartisan, trusted by all sides go out and say actually, this reveals that nuclear is pretty safe because we're seeing this widespread devastation, basically, worst case possible scenario, especially when you consider the the age of the reactors and the state of Japanese safety regulator and no one died from radiation, no one got a radiation burn. And we should probably be ready to not evacuate as much if something happens to us here. So that was the response. It was one of the few countries in the world that rapidly recovered in terms of public sentiment for nuclear. And somehow all of that turned into only a single nuclear plant starting up and more shutting down because they were just getting old. And there wasn't consensus on how best to subsidize the the life extensions necessary to keep their older plants going. So we had what 1110 12 years of semi wasted time in some ways, while public sentiment to nuclear kept going up, the Labour Party grudgingly became pro nuclear and was willing to say it. I mean, let Labour government before this one. So back with Tony Blair, it was pretty positive towards nuclear eventually. But it was still this thing where each side wasn't sure whether they should say something about it in order to position themselves against the opposition. And it, it was just this kind of game where the public was pro nuclear and all the politicians you could ever talk to were more privately pro-nuclear, the things they would say are the things they would do. So a lot of froth and not enough action. And then some big setbacks like having the chance to take the lead and financial regulation along. Say, Well, you know, London is one of the great financial centres in the world. So if London came out and said, Actually, we consider nuclear as sustainable as renewables. If that had happened five, six years ago, we could see a different world now. Now, I'm not complaining. The news we saw last night was a government setting government finally declaring in a budget, we will say that nuclear is sustainable. And I saw some critics online saying, Oh, you think just by saying it, you make it? No, that's the opposite of the problem. Nuclear actually was sustainable, in many cases more sustainable than a non nuclear alternative made with renewables. But we weren't willing to say it. So this is a correcting of a tacit falsehood, shall we say, an unstated falsehood that nuclear isn't sustainable. And the UK finally came out and said, We're going to pass a budget that States nuclear is sustainable and gives it the same financial advantages as renewable. And that's a nearly direct quote from the chancellor Jeremy Hunt,


Chris Keefer  7:48  

BF Randles talked about this recently. I've chatted about a little bit as well, this idea that nuclear doesn't have a strong constituency. BF points out that, you know, because so little materials are required for nuclear plant because uranium is pretty damn cheap. There's not the same kind of industrial financial interest in nuclear, you know, in the way that there are for, you know, fossil fuels or for renewables, for instance. You know, I've been saying recently that, you know, one of nuclear is constituency's is simply the physics and physics has imposed some hardships on Europe, this last year. Nuclear tends to thrive, when fossil fuels are constrained when prices are high, when energy security is a real issue. It for you is that what's the major driver for this change in the discourse and some of the exciting prospects? We're seeing ahead? If you'll


Mark Nelson  8:39  

allow me to be a little cute. I think nuclear does have a natural constituency, optimists. And here's what I mean. So people who believe that there's something out there something to be hopeful for, oftentimes, they will be hopeful until they find the thing that justifies that hope. It's just a, you know, it's just in their nature. I'm kind of like that, I think there will, there will always be a next step for whatever you're trying to achieve. Whatever I'm trying to achieve. There's always a next thing to do. There's some next best option, even if it's many evils, you can find the the lesser of the two evils. Right. And even that that feels optimistic to me. Well, I think that's part of the reason I fell into nuclear so hard and fast. Within minutes of discovering it as a meme to act on on internet forums. 10 years ago, I make no apologies for how quickly I went from nuclear agnostic to I love this, and I want to dedicate my career to it. So nuclear keeps gathering up people like that in all industries. I gave a speech in Dallas a few weeks ago, Robert Bryce interviewed me on stage and had some really tough questions. Honestly, the questions that would have prepared me to answer the state of the atom today, and what I discovered is these oil company execs, oil and gas bankers Oil and Gas regulators, all the people that were at this energy event, they all wanted to come up and say, I really love nuclear, or, you know, only two years ago, I was still scared of it. But now I really feel optimism when I see you talk about nuclear and I, I feel it myself, I love it, I'm going to discover more. And I've since talked to a few oil and gas companies that are eager to find out if they've Miss appraised nuclear sentiment, and not necessarily the way you would think, Chris, in some cases, they were too optimistic on nuclear, and then feel what they got wrong is that the public is to set against it. And I said, Actually, gentleman is going to be probably the opposite. The public is becoming very excited about nuclear is that we're just not quite ready or we have not been ready to deliver. It's like a giant machine spinning up to get the people the talent, the talent in both the finance and the project management and the design and the operation. All of those are different talent, spheres, the craft labor talent, even if you try to reduce it with new designs, you're going to need people optimistic that they can do a great job in a timely fashion and committed to doing it. Like almost people have a common faith. I know that sounds may be unrealistic to ask for that. But we've had it before. We've delivered there are going to be fleets around the world from the first great age of nuclear optimism that will go in the plants. Even the machines themselves in some cases are going to be running in near perpetuity because of that early optimistic stage where everybody assumed that they were going to get the job done and get it done well, and then they did. That's what's being gathered up again, for nuclear those optimists Now, where did those optimists in that constituency play into what I'm seeing now where there's a crisis? And suddenly you discover a lot more optimists for nuclear? Well, partly, it's because there's so much more pessimism for other options. That is that entirely positive, I don't know. But nuclear is the beneficiary. So what I mean by that is, solar and wind are not novel anymore. They have to stand on their achievements. In some cases, they are in many places. It's there's a solar and wind building machine that you might call it out group of talented optimists who continue to expand solar and wind, maybe not at record rates. But in absolute magnitude, you're gonna see charts all summer, showing that wind and solar production, if you add them together, are more than nuclear production in the world. And people are going to say, record breaking growth rates, nuclear never grew energy by this amount this fast, depending on the country, that region, there'll be different ways to mess around with data, both on the wind and solar side and on the nuclear side. But what they will all show is that wind and solar is producing more energy. Now when added up the nuclear yet that doff fund no projects like that doesn't justify the fact that Oh, added up over the world projects that were planned a few years ago, and are now being executed, does not guarantee and we know this is a nuclear as well as any place does not guarantee that the next wave of projects makes financial, environmental or social. Since we've lived this. We live this nightmare in nuclear, where we saw a huge wave of nuclear plants planned that would just start dominating the world energy mix in the 80s. And then it didn't happen. Even though the existing plants were starting to come online and do a decent job. Maybe not an amazing job. But so the pessimism around other options losing their almost euphoria. And offshore wind is a huge one here that we might speak about briefly before returning to nuclear that has led optimists to seek new grounds. And for those talented people who I hear interested in nuclear for the very first time, what I tell them is, we've been waiting for you, we do think you're talented, and nuclear is an amazing physical technology that has not been built with our best. In recent years. We've been short on people's and short on hope.


Chris Keefer  14:16  

It's interesting in my backyard here in Ontario, I'm saying it's the best equipped jurisdiction in the western world to get going on new nuclear. The talk has been limited to SMRs for quite a few years. And now large nuclear is back on the table. And that's pretty much the case because we have some pretty solid forecasts of increasing demand. And that's not just driven by climate because let's face it, as much as politicians like to do a bit of virtue signaling they seldom make, you know, expensive decisions purely on the basis of climate it has to do with increases in immigration and reshoring of industry etc. And that seems to be really the key driver in my read of why, you know, new nuclear new large nuclear is bad Back on the table, you know, I was actually reassured to hear that it wasn't purely because of climate that that demand was happening, because that really makes me feel that new nuclear will get built. But do you feel like that's a major factor? Or is it just you know, is it that the demand that was being provided by fossil fuels is less easy to provide now with with skyrocketing prices, or just physical limits, as much of the world is facing or in with Russian supply cut offs, etc.


Mark Nelson  15:27  

I think the slight return to coal, I don't want to overplay the return to coal in the west and in developed countries, because people aren't exactly building new plants that are more say extending others longer and switching more gas out when gas is too expensive for more coal. But in the developing world, there's been a brutal shock, call it the first great toxic awakening to the to the to the LNG environment, the liquefied natural gas environment where other countries, no matter how much they pledged themselves for climate can sweep that all away and outbid you for fuel supplies. Unless you're doing coal, doesn't mean you're perfectly insulated. From issues in coal, but you're more insulated than you are with liquefied natural gas. And you cannot bet on that you cannot bet your economy on LNG. When you're dealing with actors like Germany, who have the wealth to be the most lethal hypocrites in the world. They can they can say anything. And then they're they're rich enough to do anything at your cost, if you're on the same LNG markets, as Germany has now involved in right, so


Chris Keefer  16:36  

I think Pakistan is probably the poster child of that process. Sure, but that's part of


Mark Nelson  16:39  

the pessimism that is indeed squeezing people towards nuclear. So then the you could call it the optimism of return to demand growth. I think there was a very slow, difficult education period where a lot of people who came into climate thinking and only learned about energy and maybe a little bit of engineering afterwards, I have slowly come to the conclusion that wait, we started this thinking we would say useless energy. But then we say that we want to electrify everything. But that means we need more electricity. And you can just see people slowly work out in their heads that they need more electricity, regardless of how much energy they have. And then they join this crowd that realizes Wait, we need more energy. And it needs if we need more electricity, regardless of energy growth. What makes a lot of electricity, and where are the places that have done it? Well, people are rediscovering nuclear, you might call it through the back way. And it's it's really happening. And Ontario is a great example. Where you, you and I both know, three years ago, we're like, how do we gin up interest in more candies, and you couldn't do it? You couldn't do it. There was no force in the world powerful enough to make those who sell candy use sour candies, they just wouldn't do it. They wouldn't talk to you. They weren't. They didn't show up at conferences, they wouldn't. It was just completely useless. You remember these days, like, you know this time last year. And I and the higher the higher demand growth in the West is going to be one of those things that's very powerful, because that drove the first nuclear era. I think the issue on climate is that climate truly unites optimists and pessimists and a kind of a toxic brew that often doesn't get progress. Because the pessimist can be in burnt down mode or why bother. And if they're some of the loudest speakers and leaders in climate, you have the climate Doomers you can't you can't get anything done with climate boomers. They're not there to do something. They're there because it's easy to scare. But with the climate optimists you might say they're naturally just coming straight into the pro nuclear camp. I've one of the most beautiful types of cooperation you see nowadays, is people who moderate their views on climate change not being an issue, in order to work with their colleagues, who are moderating their views on nuclear being a problem in order to work on climate change. And they all find that as long as they just talk about nuclear, they want the same things and can move in the same direction. That's the thing for me and 2023.


Chris Keefer  19:13  

So let's, let's talk, I guess, maybe regionally, you know, we've covered the sector for the duration of this podcast, in terms of where things are actually happening. You know, it's exciting to see Vogel, I'm not sure if it's grid connected, or they're just doing hot functional testing, you know, technically they


Mark Nelson  19:30  

are turning up the power day per day. I in fact, are as you finish that question, I'm just going to check to see what today's report from the NRC said they got to yesterday, power level wise, but two days ago, it was at 18%. So by the time this podcast is out, we should be counting on Vogel three being connected to the grid, which is a it's a really powerful moment for what comes next and nuclear. And I think it's going to surprise a lot of people who had a, let's say, a pessimistic view on LMR. That's large modular array. Actors like Bogle. Well, I


Chris Keefer  20:01  

mean, yeah, you've planted the seed there.


Mark Nelson  20:03  

All right, so here's the thing. Vogel by the standards of say, Vogel wanting to back in the 80s, or buy a lot of American nuclear plants back in the 80s got built on time and on budget by the standards of the of the of the plant construction catastrophes that helped kill off the first great nuclear era. Yeah. So what do I mean by that you look at say some of the best performing nuclear plants in the world in terms of cost and and online time are in Texas. Those damn things took between 10 and 19 years to come online. So Vogel at at 11. Using the same metric I hear Simon Holmes, a court in my head saying no, no, you have to start the pre construction period. Well, for now, using the IAEA metric of nuclear safety related concrete going in under the future core all the way to the commissioning commercial commissioning time. What we're going to see in Vogel is going to be about 11 and a half years, which is not acceptable. It's not good enough. And it's not as bad as it was for plants that are now cornerstones of their industrial societies. So that's not to try to say, hey, bankers, don't worry, you might all lose your shirt, but those who come right after you and buy the plant, or take ownership of the power they're going to do okay. Now, like I said, that's not good enough. However, considering the disadvantages of Vogel that is starting without a completed set of blueprints, basically, designed for the for the people who are building, there were designs available for the regulator. But guess how many nuclear plants the NRC builds, none. They don't build nuclear plants, you can give NRC whatever designs you want. And it doesn't tell you how to pour concrete on the job site doesn't tell you where to put things on the job site, those are a different set of designs, and those weren't done. Here's another thing, any AP 1000s, that Westinghouse moves forward with, from this point on, we'll have lots of reference designs to work off of, they will have learned a very powerful lesson about modules, which is modules done poorly are probably worse than no modules at all. That was a very powerful lesson because people can get a little too high on their own supply both small and large Modular Reactors when you start talking modules. You know, that's one of the key words when I hear people very new to nuclear. They've heard about nuclear and they say, I've heard there are modules and I'm like, Yeah, I've heard about them too. A little too much. Well, modularity done wrong at any size level will be something that makes new Vogel's and modularity done right is what will make new Kashiwazaki carvery was that's que que six and KK seven in Japan in the 70s. Large Modular Reactors built in modules in three and a half years from concrete poured online. That's extraordinary. Right. And that was large Modular Reactors, with the modules done properly, with highly experienced teams building the sixth and seventh reactor almost continuously at the same site. I've heard stories of grandfathers working with grandsons on the same worksite we can't get back there until we're building again and starting large modular constructions with a supply chain in place from day one with young people who cut their teeth and the catastrophes of the 2010 set Vogel in place with leadership at Westinghouse in place that fully understands if they if they take into account these lessons fully understands those lessons. And then owners who go in with clear eyes about what went wrong at Vogel and a determination not to repeat it


Chris Keefer  23:43  

if those looks want to deep dive that topic there is a decouple episode literally titled What went wrong at Vogel it's quite a ways back in the archive but definitely worth a listen. So Vogel's come online, Waco low to I can never pronounce finish names properly,


Mark Nelson  23:56  

they're still having troubles with pumps, we're seeing very interesting things with Siemens. It feels like when Siemens got out of nuclear, their ability to deliver big complicated things for power plants just started crashing and just they're they're just, I don't know, their heart and soul seem to rot from my point of view, looking at nuclear plants that use big Siemens pumps. It's just they're having endless problems with their equipment. And that was a major issue for Diablo Canyon, it still remains one of the issues I see people critiquing Diablo for having a bad year few years recently that Siemens is fault they made crappy equipment. And I think that when you nuclear is almost always the most complicated and prestigious and elite part of any company. So most procedures part of any utility, they have nuclear, it's the most prestigious part of any supplier if they do Nuclear Grade business, in some ways, you regret it because you're like, ah, it makes everything expensive and complicated. And other ways you say no, we are capable of this level of excellence if we put our hearts and minds into it. Well, Siemens, pumps and opilio to continue to have have issues. That's what I'm hearing. And we'll see if they can stay up because we, we could sure use the power in Europe. And for me, the question is, are German companies going to return to nuclear with the turnaround and sentiment of nuclear in Germany, because new Germany's the industrial heart of Europe because it's disappoint. It's obvious. Whatever happens to Germany, the countries surrounding Germany are going to go all into nuclear. So if German companies decide to get back into nuclear and do it, well, hopefully, we can come out of this slump, that we're seeing from Siemens providing, as far as I can tell crappy equipment or crappy service, I'm not inside and okay, we odo I wish I could get the full story.


Chris Keefer  25:44  

Well, pivoting over to Europe. I've been saying, prematurely, I think that we were at the end of the era of fighting to save nuclear plants. And the agenda was now and the struggle is now to get new nuclear plants built. We have seen some plants come offline. You know, outside of Europe and Taiwan the other day, we saw I believe dwell one of the dwelling units come offline, the Germans look like, look like we're gonna lose the last three, what's what's your take,


Mark Nelson  26:11  

they're certainly going to turn off on April 15, the fuel that would be needed and could probably be obtained in a matter of months, it hasn't been obtained. So the reactivity is lowering, you can see on charts of nuclear electricity production in Germany, it's tapering off. So there in the so called run out operations that we have introduced listeners of this podcast during the past where the core is going lower and lower power without turning off yet, that turn off point is going to be April 15. assuming there's no unplanned shutdowns, close to then At which point, it probably wouldn't be enough free activity in the quarter of bring it back online and overcome Xeon buildup. So yeah, April 15, is the shutdown point, at which time, you will enter a probably multi year period of the plants being weeks away from restarting at any given point. And that would make five total nuclear plants in Germany that are weeks away from restarting. And they will just sit there with 10 million peoples where the power just not being produced, yet not being torn apart. By law, you have to get permission to do anything at the nuclear plant that's irreversible. And two of the three plants that have shut down recently have not received that. And the third, by most recent accounts that I've heard, although they've done more decommissioning activities, they could bring it back. So that let's talk about six, six of the largest reactors, six of the most prolific nuclear reactors on planet Earth, just waiting to come back. But we're gonna get some really ugly charts from Germany where they're going to have another increase in carbon emissions, at minimum in relative terms to surrounding countries, probably depending on if they get lucky with November, December winds if the winds don't come in, heavy across the continent in November, December, we're likely to see another year, this would be the third year in a row after the 2020 minimum of increasing carbon emissions.


Chris Keefer  28:14  

While your optimist credentials are impeccable there with that description of the German situation, hey, probably,


Mark Nelson  28:19  

it is optimistic because it means they're feeding and clothing and housing and powering their people like yeah, of course, that's good. We just would prefer them do it. Without the pollution and the cost of the fossil fuels they have to import to do so.


Chris Keefer  28:35  

I was speaking about your optimism of the five plants being ready to come back in a few weeks on


Mark Nelson  28:39  

it. Right. So that that is optimism. Yeah, absolutely.


Chris Keefer  28:42  

Absolutely. its purest form. Let's move to France. I think this is a country with a absolutely massive turnaround. There was a legislative legislative plan to reduce their share of nuclear electricity from 75 to 50%. On what grounds I don't think any of us are entirely clear,


Mark Nelson  28:57  

there was a parliamentary inquiry, a great French nuclear Inquisition is going on. And I could not be more thrilled, where they're pulling up the people who made like that target the 75 to 50. And they're asking him, how do you decide on that? And they're saying, Ah, we don't know. And here's what's so insidious Chris, about a 75 to 50% target. It's that because nuclear was the backbone of their entire economy, their only truly indigenous energy source besides a bit of hydro? Well, it means that it cratered energy availability across the economy, which means that energy supplies shrink, so you have to keep producing less to hit your target of production. So let's say you make 500 terawatt hours of power, and I don't know if that 400 is nuclear. That's 80%. That's too high. Your law says it needs to be 50%. Chris, does that mean you have to get down to 250? No, because at 250 You've created your economy so much, you may only need 300 terawatt hours of electricity, at which point 150, at which point, you're important. So they, and here's the other thing, they were not going to meet that target for reducing nuclear, except that they're reductions in staffing reductions and in maintenance budgets, reductions in capabilities, reductions, and just the focus of their of their lead officials. All of that was crashing at the same time. So that systematic problems that came up across their fleet, were just, they just had to shut all their reactors down. And they were not ready to power their country, when Russia was shut off the gas pipelines, they weren't ready to power Europe, they're producing, I would say about half the power their fleet ought to produce, if carefully set shepherded if treated as the spectacular resources is. So although the law was in place until what, two or three days ago, the French were only hitting that law due to sheer incompetence, and maybe a little bit of bad luck. But look, you make you get the luck you deserve in some ways, and nuclear plants in America get bad luck. And that means some years, one of the 99 reactors will have a 70 or 80% uptime. That's bad luck, or it's bad man, or whatever you want to call it. The problem is across France, you have 70 or 80%, built in as the expectation, and then they undershot, that by a significant amount. And with the repealing of this law, in that way, it's a huge symbolic victory that says, We were stupid to even attempt this, the people who did this are somewhere between morons and, and sabotages intentional sabotage of our economy. Right. And then with that discrediting and that public process of airing out this dirty laundry of these foolish people who had no idea what they were doing, didn't even know how energy worked or where it came from, and were put in charge of the energy supply, and just fumbled around and messed it up. That is hopefully going to convince a younger, angry generation to do a better job with nuclear in the future. In fact, that's what built the nuclear fleet in the first place. Chris, an entire generation of young Angry Men saw what their fathers had done collaborating with Germany, and they themselves were the elite officials of the New France, they were the ones who had not collaborated. They're the ones who had fought in the resistance or fought with Charles de Gaulle, and had somehow acquitted themselves with extreme bravery and courage and competence. Those were the generations that built the reactor fleet to never be subjugated again. And I think we're just going to have to have that pattern, the people who collaborated with Germany to destroy their own energy supply, but without the competency of the Germans, the ruthlessness of the Germans, or the quite frankly, the fossil fuels of the Germans with the lignite mines, those people are going to get publicly humiliated and discredited. And then whoever says the opposite and says, We need to bring back nuclear, they're going to be the new leaders. That's optimism on my part, because it's a really hard thing to regain excellence so hard, harder, maybe than getting it in the first place, Chris?


Chris Keefer  33:19  

Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, if you think about the Mesmer plan, and you think about what the global prospects are, for any country doing anything similar in the next coming decades, I think that's, that's quite daunting. The preconditions have changed a lot, particularly in the west with the industrialization, just as we do this kind of nuclear tour. We're not going to touch on every region in the world. Um, you've hinted a little bit about, I think, prospects in the developing world as they've experienced being locked out of LNG markets, anywhere else that you think we should, we should touch on. We've got episodes, of course on Russian Adam, this was prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but still very interesting given being such a big player in the global nuclear exports sphere. We haven't personally you and I talked about China, but we've covered that before any other any other regions that are worth, you know, really paying attention to or that are illustrative of whatever we're calling this, this revival, this something happening? Sure, let's


Mark Nelson  34:09  

do a quick hit. So Russian nuclear projects are as far as I can tell, continuing rapidly around the world, which is something that experts disagreed on, at the start of the war with this destroy Russia's ability to keep their construction sites going. I was torn. I didn't know and I didn't have a way to judge. Turns out the construction sites are going rose Adam just hit a hit 45 days before their goal, I believe was the number on finishing up the concrete at the top of the reactor domes in Bangladesh for report, that plan is going to start up really soon. And it's going to change the energy food future of Bangladesh. And that's a real hope over pessimism story because there's a lot of people who for I don't know, Malthusian reasons, racism reasons or whatever, think that Bangladesh is just hopeless and just 100 million people need to die or my Be great to prove that we can't do anything about climate change. And instead, they're like, why don't we build a really tough nuclear plant and make sure that that provides a solid base of power that benefits our economy. And then we'll expand nuclear from there and stabilize our supply in the face of rising seas. Because the nuclear plant is always worth protecting from the sea, as long as you build a high enough seawall, but now everybody knows that, thanks to Fukushima Daiichi. So that's an example of a project that you might have thought could slow down, but didn't with the Russian and full scale invasion of Ukraine. So those projects continue apace, and the big ones are in Turkey and Egypt. And they're also building in Iran, and they're building in India, and they're completing some reactors in China. I haven't heard much about the progress within Russia, but it's a little bit harder to get information out. So that's the Russian world, US has finally woken up to this, that we don't have a competitive offer in a lot of cases. But Eastern Europe wants us to build nuclear, hopefully we get up to speed and with a combination of say, Can dues or AP 1000s or Korean designs, we can provide reactors for an Eastern Europe that previously was just gonna get Russia.


Chris Keefer  36:15  

So Korea seems to be the most credible exporter developer to the west, like excluding if you're going to you're not going to include Rosa Tom, or, or I don't think Chinese have really entered into the export market yet. But the Koreans obviously pulled off something quite impressive. In the United Arab Emirates, and they


Mark Nelson  36:32  

dropped the ball, Chris, they elected an ideological warrior, anti nuclear president who also understood nothing about energy. All he knew is that he wanted to destroy what was Korea's greatest and most prestigious industry at the time.


Chris Keefer  36:46  

So let's talk about that turnaround. And also what the prospects perhaps limitations are, I mean, the Koreans, it's small country, they can only do so much. There's a real hunger, a number of countries, Poland included are in talks for new APR 1400s. If I was a country coming to nuclear, I would be talking to the South Koreans myself. Tell us a little bit about the saga of that of that turnaround. And how how much demand you think that the Koreans can meet


Mark Nelson  37:13  

in brief, and this is probably worth its whole episode. In brief. Korea with South Korea was determined to make an independent nuclear energy supply and supply chain. So they sampled reactors from around the world in the 60s and 70s and 80s. They got reactors from France, they got reactors from America, they got reactors from Canada, so they had a sort of a reactor zoo going to see whether they would should choose one direction over another. They ended up going with an American company that was pessimistic and thought that they were going to probably go out of business anyway, in 1980, you know, 1980s, with with Chernobyl blowing up in 86, they just did not think that they had a way forward. And so they made an exceptionally compelling offer. This is combustion engineering, made a very compelling offer to the Koreans with essentially total technology transfer that set the seeds of the current impasse at the moment between Westinghouse and Korea because Westinghouse absorbed combustion engineering, and Korea was convinced that they had totally independent IP that they could export with their agreement with combustion engineering. So this sort of started boiling over with the United Arab Emirates deal where Korea put together an exceptionally compelling offer. That included a leadership role for Korea and a subsidiary role for Westinghouse to supply equipment services. So these APR 1400s advanced pressurized water reactor 1400s of Korean design but very tight lineage from American designs were sold and can see our being finished up now in UAE by the time Hawk 28 rolls around the climate conference rolls around and later this year, we expect to see all four of those gorgeous APR 1400s Running closely resembling those in the desert in Arizona at Palo Verde nuclear plant, the last combustion engineering plant to come on in the United States. So what's the issue? The issue is Westinghouse says we know that you're using rip in ways that are not in the agreement. The Transfer Agreement, Westinghouse or Korea then says no, this is ours through and clear. We're the project leaders we own this IP we develop this reactor, it's Korea now. We should be able to sell both sides are gonna want a really quick, fair outcome. Both sides think that fair means say Westinghouse in the lead or Korea in the lead. I'm not in a position to adjudicate I'm just very hopeful that it will be worked out quite soon. And then Korea will do what Korea does best Westinghouse will provide what what Westinghouse currently provides really well and may get more capabilities of delivering big plants on time. And they're going to find ways to divide up a big market that certainly has enough work for everybody. So between Poland, the Middle East, Central Central European countries also like Czechia. And all of this back and forth on the large modular reactors is taking place sort of at the very highest levels of state of commerce. While at the same time, there's this sort of people's revival, in some ways of SMR is at the bottom, where individual businessmen and leaders get so enamored by the vision of a small reactor project that's right size for their community, or for their business or their trading hub, they see that as something they can deliver, with their own power with their own resources in their own time. And so SMRs are getting a large number of entities involved in, in nuclear, that would not if there were only large modular reactors, and then the large Modular Reactor folks are like, these Colossal Titan striding above it all, with, you know, Poland ordering half a dozen at a time, for example, of AP 1000, we hope to see the final contracts to that very soon, we've seen a lot of great stuff unveiled. And I think that we're gonna see ap 1000 successively built in a reasonable period of time in Poland. But it's happening at the same time that Poland has business leaders super excited, justifiably about various SMR designs, and there may be some simultaneous work going on, we'll see. It's tricky to see it happening in a country that does not yet have any nuclear, it's not maybe impossible. In fact, it's may be necessary. But that doesn't prove that it's going to happen, or that we're going to not have log jams at the regulatory level, or at the financing level, or at the talent level on the projects or maybe bidding wars between different nuclear projects for talent, you could only hope that that would be balanced by a massive draw of people and ideas and abilities into the competing projects. But we're yet to see.


Chris Keefer  42:11  

So Mark, what what new nuclear country? Are you most bullish on and why?


Mark Nelson  42:16  

So what country has no nuclear do I think is going to do nuclear? Well, quite honestly, I see Saudi Arabia in a position to see the outstanding success of UAS program, and to say, we want one of those, and we have the cash to buy it. I don't know who they're going to go with. I know they've solicited has been made public, they they received, they solicited bids for their, their program. And I think at the point that they do it, they're going to have the best people on planet Earth appointed to deliver the project. And they're not even going in, say blind, shall we say they're going in knowing what's possible in a nearby country with very similar circumstances. And I think they're going to do a spectacular job. And I don't know what that means for the region. I don't know whether that means other nearby countries are going to have to get nuclear or fall behind. But I suspect that it will shock the world of traditional energy, when the scale of their plans are announced. We'll see though i We won't know until later this year, I suspect. In the developing world, though, I'm paying attention to, say, Southeast Asian countries. I visited the Philippines a number of months ago, and was interested to see that nuclear had gone from a sort of forbidden topic or a topic for loonies, to a fascinating thing that was on everybody's mind. And it was just had taken over the ideas around an energy for that country. So the President had visited an SMR company, and on his first tour back to America, and that was the talk of the town when I was in Manila. Everybody wanted to talk about Modular Reactors. And people who had been talking about nuclear for years like Congressman Mark Kwanko, you know, one of our movement leaders, he went from being an outsider weirdo kept going on about all this nuclear stuff. And people are like, how weird you are. Nobody else is going on about this. Why are you keep talking about it? Now? He's seen as like a fourth long sighted visionary, instead of a weirdo who's keeps going banging on about the technology nobody wants. Now people are like, hey, wasn't that Mark Juancho guy wasn't he going on about nuclear a long time ago. And that pattern to some degree is repeating in other countries, where a few people were interested in nuclear way before they were too early, which is, as I like to say very close to being wrong. And those people are then looked at as far sighted now that the conversation has turned towards nuclear. So Southeast, Southeast Asian nations have hundreds of millions of people and population Philippines is what number 1112 in the world and population with over 100 million people and for any one of those countries to make a really strong positive step towards nuclear and I expect you'll hear news from the Philippines soon on this, you can expect to see a very serious approach taken at double time in all the surrounding nations because none of them want to be left behind.


Chris Keefer  45:29  

So in Mark, as we're alluding to the beginning of the episode, there has been talk of renaissances before. I mean, countries like Nigeria, were talking with the Russians, I believe about building four gigawatts of nuclear. There was a similar situation in South Africa, they're talking about 12 gigawatts I think of nuclear in the early 2000s. I was just looking through some Obama era communications about, you know, Republican senators, you know, and I kind of compromised once Obama swept the House, the Senate and in the Congress around around pursuing climate action with nuclear. I mean, we've had these kind of heady times before. Could this all fizzle? Do you think there's something that's that's different about the moment that we're in compared to say 20 years ago?


Mark Nelson  46:15  

Here's the thing, Chris, the crazy energy prices, and the shut off of some of the largest fossil fuel infrastructure in the world, intentionally against economic good sense, has shown people that energy is so important, it resides outside of just economics or just business, Germany was so damn sure that their Almighty Euro reserves would just force Germany to have to go begging to the person providing the money, when, of course, Russia was playing the Bane role here saying, you're paying us money, and you think that gives you power over us know, you're paying tribute to us. And we're providing you the fuel you need to survive if we choose to. And we now choose not to that that put energy on a completely different footing. That was the conversation in Dallas among the leaders of the fossil fuel industry, the realization that it wasn't only about price. And that price today guaranteed you nothing about tomorrow, no matter what the forward curves, say, no matter what the future say that somebody can choose to turn off the pipes. And in a world where somebody just chooses to turn off the biggest pipes in the world, all bets are off. And in a world where all bets were not off. That's where on and nuclear was sort of excluded. That was a that was a very stable anti nuclear situation in finance, industry and government, even as the popular sentiment because of leaders like you kept improving for nuclear, because the fearful generation, whose problem was to stop growth and to stop building and to stop nuclear, that generation is fading away. So there were population reasons, there were cultural reasons why nuclear was rising, and yet it had not broken through into the, you might say, the board rooms and the Cabinet rooms the way it has, once somebody proved that no matter how much they ever turn on the pipelines in the future, they could turn them off in a day should they choose to, I think that what's changed from the last year, and it means that with the nuclear plants that already exists, lasting longer and longer and longer and longer, it means you start getting a little greedy. And you look at you look at Vogel coming out and you think Okay, so now it's gonna last for maybe a century, the public isn't against it. The South loves nuclear, if you're talking southeastern US, it was over budget, but maybe I could do it. And once you build nuclear, nothing performs like nuclear. I think we're also seeing that the big energy source for a bunch of rich northern countries, you know, far nor too far north for such I always say baseload solar to help out in the winter, the offshore wind industry in New England is not things are not amazing there. And the rate at which offshore wind is making enemies of former allies in state houses is astonishing. To me, it blows my mind. I cannot believe what I'm saying. And I'm trying to compare and see if the same thing happened in nuclear where nuclear companies broke their word and showed up as shady foreigners cheating, rude politicians from both parties. Like that's the mood in the State House is a New England. I don't know if they're gonna come back from that and provide some bulk answer for say a place like New England densely populated kind of like a bit of Europe, right, a little cut off and pipelines that they weren't allowed to bring in the fossil fuels they need and dependent on burning oil in the winter. Like it's just not it's, it's not a great situation. If you can't build out the wind you built your energy plans around in the last five years. So are they going to turn around and build energy plans or Is the rich world going to turn energy planning towards nuclear? Well, there's a dam that has to break. And that is that almost all the energy modeling groups, partly because they take their cues from who orders their modeling. They'd seem to intentionally limit nuclear a lot of times by including either unfavorable projections or overly rosy projections for other struggling macro energies like offshore wind, and that ends up locking nuclear out of future energy planning. Now, I think we're going to see that break and change. And there's going to be more energy modeling groups that say, well, since we know what's wrong, maybe we should just show that our model does include nuclear and just hold tight if they tell us don't include it for political reasons. Well, there's going to be less people asking them to exclude nuclear for political reasons, it may not be as an explicit thing. But once rich country energy models start, including nuclear frequently, I think that combined with what the news we're seeing out of London, where they're saying nuclear is sustainable, that is going to help unlock international financing, that will provide options for the developing world like Nigeria and South Africa, in addition to what the Russians are already offering, at that point, the great nuclear races on and as opposed to other great infrastructure development races. I think history shows that a nuclear program is astonishingly beneficial to whatever developing country gets it. Certainly one of the one of the few things working extremely well, these days in South Africa is the French nuclear reactors built back in the 80s. So yeah, I think the rich countries will end up moving towards nuclear in ways that unlock Western capabilities and finance for developing countries in ways that cement both reactors from Russia, China, and the West, all competing for a market that ought to be big enough for everybody. So that's my State of the nuclear in 2023.


Chris Keefer  52:00  

So, in the West, not much has been built. In several decades, it feels like the lids been held tightly on the cam. And inside that can there's been a lot of people who have been thinking about how best to move forward how to deploy nuclear under really challenging circumstances, those circumstances are becoming less challenging. But there are a plethora of ideas, a plethora of different ways to use the technology. I know, you don't like determining, you know, the generation terms. But also, you know, sizes, degrees of modularization, there's a lot of controversy. So how do you see those controversies playing out in the last little while our first episode together was on nuclear, real versus imagined. That was a real classic. But let's let's revisit not just that topic, but this idea of, you know, the plethora of different ups, you know, what I'm trying to say here, startups and other entities that are vying for this vision of what nuclear should look like, going forward now that the opportunity to build is potentially starting to emerge. We're seeing examples of what that looks like here in Ontario, the West first SMR, at least the beginning of the site preparation, that's a very conservative, you know, 10th iteration of a boiling water reactor, what is your general sense of, of how things are going to move as the potential to build actually becomes a reality?


Mark Nelson  53:16  

I think I keep a lot of my conclusions in place from that my first podcast ever, not just first, with the couple, the first time I ever did a podcast. At the time, I had never heard podcasts, I'd never spoken in one. Now I haven't heard them. And now I've spoken in many, many dozens. So it's a different world from then. But my conclusion there is pretty much the same, which is that quality projects will win. And the scale of power will determine which of the quality projects are chosen for each place. So what I mean is General Electric, Hitachi has what seems to be a sensible 300 megawatt design 300 megawatts is going to be the right size for a lot of folks. And there's going to be both political and economic reasons why companies and countries are going to want 300 megawatt units of power, either spread around to satisfy dueling industrial groups, for example, or to fit into existing operations, with the first reactor providing just what's needed for a private owner or providing an easier pill to swallow before Vogel proves to be a one time situation with large nuclear so maybe a timing thing in a little bit. But I think that in each size range, there will be winning one or two industrial conglomerates that so combinations of designers, engineer architects supply chains that just end up winning or even consultants that are familiar and comfortable going to a country and saying, Look, I've been a part of building that design. I can not assure you that we're as good with any other design as we are if you choose to work with me Yeah, and with that design, I think we're gonna see a lot of that. And there's going to be some winner take all situations, there's going to be a lot of internal strife, civil wars, people who co identified the dream of nuclear with their private dream of their private company being the solution, there's going to be a really harsh period where people, some are moving forward, and some are not. And that's going to be a little bit rough. And it's going to lead to a collapse in this sort of unified events nuclear narrative, I think. And then I think we're going to see the LM RS come back, big states, who can make big central decisions and put a lot of cash are gonna keep going with big LM Rs, even if they dabble with some new designs that and some of them may be genuine breakthroughs in business structure, size versus construction team quality of the design, I expect to see an industrial firm it happen. But without that stating that SMRs are going to rule the day, I see SMR is continuing to draw talent into the industry, talent that may be then be poached up to the either the winning SMR designs or to the large Modular Reactors, right. So yeah, that's a that's a less harsh view in the past, which is all advanced is really stupid and dumb. But it's also saying that advanced is as advanced does and advanced does in many cases, as it's already done. And that means the advantage is going to go in anything that's advanced, but not so advanced that we haven't done it yet. That capable managers will be able to capably capably manage complicated large designs and also simple smaller designs.


Chris Keefer  56:42  

We certainly seem to hear that coming from a lot of nations that are exploring nuclear that they don't want to be the test case for a novel nuclear design.


Mark Nelson  56:50  

True, but then there's going to be FOMO Fear Of Missing Out where people are saying, why won't somebody risk trying something new in our country? Now, that's the optimist in me thinking, the more conservative engineer says, ooh, I don't know if I liked that logic. But that's the that's the way I think that nuclear is going to spread fast, where countries say, are we not special enough to get a new experimental design? Now, it might not happen. But that's the inversion of the pessimism of the past that I think we're going to see more and more, where you don't have to go to a country or to a province in a country and say, Hey, we need somebody to be offered up as a sacrifice for this national project. No. Instead, it's going to be, hey, we've got five other provinces that want this and they're there. They want it now. So if you guys with your better site for nuclear want it, you'd better demand it from us, because we're us. We're, we're going to the other side of the country, we're going to see that sort of inversion, and not just for the reactors, but also for the waste. We haven't mentioned the waste. Yes, but here in the final seconds of our podcasts, I can say the waste issue is dying day by day, the existence of engineering solutions is spreading rapidly, like viral meme that says, Oh, wait, wait, like representative Alexandria. Ocasio Cortes said the French recycle, we should just do that. Well, that has its ups and downs. It doesn't solve it. But it also wasn't a big problem. So if the meme solution spread around, then nuclear waste stops being an important issue for people because you can just say, oh, we'll solve it like they did in Finland or, or we can solve it like they did in the Netherlands or we can solve it like they do at the dry gas storage at our existing plants. And then people say, Okay, so next step, let's get reactive. So we're going to see that spread as part of this general positive momentum.


Chris Keefer  58:38  

Okay, so we're gonna close any second now, but this, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez moment really caught me off guard that was an Instagram post, I believe, I think it disappeared, but you know what the context was that she tore Fukushima still


Mark Nelson  58:49  

there. Okay. And it's one of our featured here Japan trip with, I don't know, 60 slides or something is still there on her Instagram.


Chris Keefer  58:57  

Okay, and do you know anything more about that trip? Was it particularly to visit Fukushima? Or was it more Japan it


Mark Nelson  59:01  

was Japan and for her the highlight was the trains, she always wanted to go see the trains which I get it, I always get a limited use train pass seven day train pass. Whenever I go to Japan, I just adore it. I love it so much. But for her though, she made public her internal decision making on whether to go to Fukushima Daiichi. And she explained that the more she learns, the better she feels. And nobody can say that and then celebrate the quality of work being done at the cleanup side. And the anti it's just doesn't go together. nor is she willing to come right out and say I love nuclear and think it should be part of our energy mix. No, that's like five years from now or something or if she feels left behind or whatever, but she doesn't. She doesn't have to lead on pronuclear sentiment, but she is a crucial mop up force for the left saying here's the line of acceptable discourse on nuclear if you're behind To me, who's saying, Oh, I'm so cautious. I'm not sure I'm learning more facts and science to make up my mind about whether nuclear is a good thing, but I'm keeping it open. And maybe we do nuclear but not sure yet. That is now the line of accepting of acceptable nuclear pessimism on the left in the US, and anybody to the other side is a weird old Doomer. Boomer. Yeah. And they're on their way out, after, you know, destroying their own states power supplies, of course, in the Northeast case, but still better than ever. Yeah, that is that sweep up operation, we can expect to continue because it's occurring still during cleanup and bad news stories coming out of Japan with their triple meltdown. And with nuclear plants being caught up in war in Ukraine. Still, that mob of operation is moving.


Chris Keefer  1:00:46  

But yeah, when you bring it back to this situation has appreciate is pretty extraordinary the way the narrative has shifted. Mark, we're gonna have to cut it off somewhere. I think now's a good time as any looking forward to you coming back. We've got some more master classes scheduled with you. Uranium, the people are clamoring for it. So hopefully we'll get that scheduled soon. Thanks for making the time today. And we will catch YOU on the flipside. Good to


Mark Nelson  1:01:09  

be here, Chris.



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